Six outstanding teachers across the country have been identified as finalists for this year’s Teacher of the Year (TOTY) Award.

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These finalists, each chosen from one of six U.S. geographic sections (Pacific, Rocky Mountain, Mid-Continent, Southwest, Gulf Coast, and Eastern), represent the pinnacle of excellence in teaching the geosciences. This annual award supports the mission of the AAPG Foundation, whose primary goal since its inception in 1976 has been to provide funding for educational, charitable and scientific objectives, which directly and indirectly benefit the geologic profession and the general public. The TOTY Award honors that intention by providing this award to the heart of geoscience educational initiatives – grades K-12.

The Southwest section has selected Sabrina Ewald from Centennial High School in McKinney, Texas. Ms. Ewald has taught 11th & 12th graders for 9 years. Her focus revolves around hands on learning, helping students take ownership, and puts emphasis on the value of conserving natural resources. Her methods include creating designing her lessons “to be as fun and engaging as possible so that the students can buy into what they are learning and come to class each day ready to jump into (their) next adventure.” Ms. Ewald was described as “not the type of teacher who’s in the business to ‘get 3 months off.’ She is always heavily involved in various summer activities, from geology camps to STEM workshops, in an attempt to continue having an impact on students outside of the classroom.”

The Eastern section voted on Heather McArdle from Mahopac High School in Ossining, New York. Ms. McArdle has taught in the field of geoscience for 13 years, from high school freshmen to college-aged students. A colleague at her school gave praise of her teaching methods, sharing that Ms. McArdle’s students “are taken into the field, are taught to research and read primary resources and to write in the scientific style, and they are introduced to real world examples of careers in the geosciences.” She was also described as selflessly dedicated to high standards of geoscience education both inside and beyond her classroom.

The Gulf Coast section chose Madelyn Percy of West Lake High School in Austin, Texas. Ms Percy’s teaching philosophy is diversified, and her focus is on giving students a range of opportunities to participate in experiential learning. She believes that it is important to provide her students with a thorough understanding of how natural and industrial processes work. She provides her students with as many field experiences and industry speakers as possible. Additionally, she offers hands-on experience in the classroom through labs. Her Assistant Principal, Dianne Carter, describes Ms. Percy’s passion for teaching the geosciences as “appreciated and contagious.” She further states that “because of all of these factors, she has inspired many of our students to have a greater understanding and appreciation of our Earth, the resources it provides, and the mysteries that it can reveal.”

The Pacific section selected Chung Khong of Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, California. Mr. Khong has taught science subjects for 14 years. He was described by a colleague as having “great passion for environmental science and his enthusiasm for the subject is passed down to the students.” Mr. Khong is known for helping his students apply what they have learned in practical ways by teaming up with graduate students from UC Santa Cruz. His Principal, Tom Huynh, describes him as “one of the most outstanding science teachers in (their) district” and that he “has an uncanny ability to connect with students of all abilities and learning styles.” One particular exercise well received among his students included examining the role of fossil fuels in their lives. In order for students to understand the importance of fossil fuel, he asked them to keep a four week diet journal, and then later helped them assess how many units of fossil fuel it took to get their food from farm to table. Lessons like this spotlight Mr. Khong as exemplifying excellence in teaching the geosciences.

The Rocky Mountain section decided on Debra Stiles of Capital High School in Helena, Montana. Ms. Stiles has taught earth science for more than 28 years. She believes that earth science is best learned through hands on activities, discussion, field trips, and guest speakers. For her natural resource unit, she uses many rock and mineral samples, simulations, educational movies, video clips, news articles and guest speakers to connect her students to their world. A colleague described her as someone who teaches with zeal, commitment, research, intelligence, and personal time. She teaches a unit focused on natural resources, but expands on that curriculum throughout the year relevant with news postings, field trips, and inter-unit connections. Ms. Stiles shared that one of her main goals is to ensure her students understand that our planet is a finite resource, and how we use the earth today impacts how it can be used tomorrow.

The Mid-Continent Section chose Alexandra Holter of Jenks Middle School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ms. Holter’s teaching philosophy is inspired by her believe that “teachers are the definers of the educational environment. They have the ability to inspire and energize as well as to deflate and discourage.” As an educator, she feels that it is her responsibility to present information in fun and creative ways that promote inquiry and curiosity; with the ultimate goal of getting students to recognize their own intelligence and ability to be productive members of a global society. She is described by her Principal, Rob Miller, as being “tapped into her students’ interest in the environment to facilitate research and robust conversations about minerals as natural resources.”

The final recipient will be announced on January 13th. The TOTY winner will receive a $6,000 award which will be presented to the individual at the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition (ACE) which will take place April 2014, in Houston, Texas. The award includes $3,000 for school use under the teacher’s supervision for educational purposes and $3,000 for personal use by the teacher. In addition, the recipient will receive an expense-paid trip to ACE to receive the award. View our past TOTY recipients by clicking here.

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