Celebrating Science

 2011 Ernest and Sarah Butler Excellence in Science Teaching Awards Recipients

Read about how this year’s winners are impacting the next generation to be curious, productive citizens of tomorrow!

Heather Fleming teaches fifth grade at Summitt Elementary in Austin, Texas and shared this lesson with us – which capitalizes on her students’ enthusiasm of “teaching” younger students:

After seeing the success of my 5th graders helping younger students learn to read through “reading buddies” I decided that we could instill the same excitement for learning with science class. Once a month, I teach my students how to teach a science lesson. We practice it that day, then the next day, my “science teachers” partner up with 1 or 2 primary-age children. My “teachers” wear their lab coats, safety goggles, and are in complete control of the lesson for their buddy. At any given time, there are more than 60 students in my classroom, and all of them are actively engaged in science! Inadvertently, we have taught some of the primary teachers something they didn’t know about science. The lesson using cornstarch and water was a real eye-opener to 2 of our first grade teachers, who normally don’t like to get messy. They were amazed at the properties of “Oobleck” and spent as much time as their kids hitting the cornstarch with their fist, and then slowing sinking their hands into the suspension. They can’t wait to come back for the next lesson!

Susan Harsh, who teaches Little Cypress Junior High in Orange, Texas, shared with us a bit about her teaching philosophy:

I want my students to develop a sense of curiosity and wonder, for it is these traits that cause them to question and seek answers. By bringing in unusual items, such as fossils, rocks, bones, animals, plants, and other things into the classroom, I try to develop that sense of wonder: where did that come from, why did it form that way? I once had a relationship with a local pet store where I could “check out” unusual animals such as glass lizards, iguanas, snakes or birds, and bring them back to the classroom where we could observe their habits, discuss the adaptations and actually touch and handle the animals. This also encourages students to bring in animals of their own, such as boas, hamsters and baby raccoons. Other students brought in items such as bear skulls, almost a whole goat skeleton and a snake skin all of which we discussed in class. Students often thought they were getting me “off task” because we would spend the whole class discussing some unusual topic, but years later they could still tell me what we talked about—so they were learning!

Timothy Daponte, EdD. teaches physics in the Science Department at J.H. Reagan High School in Houston, Texas. He shared these thoughts about why he is called to teach:

Success in education is not measured by the size of my students’ paychecks but by their contributions to society and strength of their character. I have had students who have graduated from some of the better universities throughout the country. Many former students are now physicians, nurses, lawyers and even an occasional teacher. My goal for my students is to develop their talents to become independent and productive citizens. Often as teachers we are not able to monitor this until years later. The imprint a teacher makes remains long after the facts and classroom procedures have faded. 

Each child has different needs, abilities, dreams and desires. Many of the students I teach face the challenge of living in some of Houston's more impoverished neighborhoods. They make their way to school through a gauntlet of drug addicts and dealers. My classroom is an island of stability in an ocean of turmoil. The fact these students attend school is a testament to their motivation not to slip through the cracks. They have the foresight to aim for a future to provide them and their families with security and steady income in legitimate and honorable professions.