Initial Publication Date: September 11, 2015

2015 Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award Winners

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Outstanding Earth Science Teacher (OEST) awards are given for "exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the Earth Sciences at the pre-college level." Any teacher or other K-12 educator who covers a significant amount of earth science content with their students is eligible. Ten national finalists are selected, one from each NAGT regional section. Some sections also recognize state winners. Individuals may submit an application themselves or nominate a colleague for the award.


Central Section - Michele Svoboda

Michele Svoboda has taught 8th grade science at Mill Creek Middle School in Comstock Park, Michigan for 23 years. She graduated with a BS in Group Science in 1992 from Grand Valley State University, and in 2012 with a MA in Applied Science Education through Michigan Technological University. If you ask her to describe her philosophy of teaching, she will respond with a quote from Frederick W. Robertson. "The true aim of everyone who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinion, but to kindle minds." She has a passion for science and a love of science education that has prompted her to become a life-long learner. She has been a part of summer programs such as EPIcenter and ENVISION through Purdue University, Teacher's Earth Science Institute through Michigan Technological University, and Leadership in the Biological Sciences through the University of Miami at Ohio. Each opportunity allows her to bring back one or two new ideas to incorporate in the classroom. She is part of MiQuakes, which is a K-14 educational seismograph network operated by the Michigan Earth Science Teachers Association as part of the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology. Her classroom is equipped with an AS-1 Seismometer to monitor and record earthquake events. With the addition of this marvelous tool, she can now teach about earthquakes all year long and immediately after an event occurs. Michele has received several awards and accolades for her efforts in the classroom including MSTA Middle Level Science Teacher of the Year in 2004, Paul DeHart Hurd Award for Middle Level Science Teaching and Leadership in 2005, the Vincent J. Marteka Award for Creative Science Teaching in 2007. In 2014, Michele was recognized as the MESTA Outstanding Earth Science Teacher. She presents at local, state, and national science conferences and is on the board of several organizations including MESTA, Michigan Science Olympiad, and the Advisory Board for Grand Valley Regional Math/Science Center.

Eastern Section - John Russell

Shortly after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences, I joined Teach For America, an organization that places select graduates into high-needs classrooms. Though I had the content knowledge and strong understanding of the science, the pedagogy came slowly, helped along with my daily classroom work and support through education colleges. In my second year teaching, I had distinguished myself enough to help write the TFA curricular handbook for Earth Science. In my decade as a teacher in New York City, I helped found a charter school as the math and science department leader, designed professional development for science teachers at the American Museum of Natural History and wrote curriculum for children and adults through Relay Graduate School. I currently teach 8th and 12th grade at Columbia Secondary School, a West Harlem public school with a deep relationship with the university. I am also earning my doctorate part-time at Teachers College and, by the end of the year, I hope to finish my thesis on the relationship between the original discovery of Plate Tectonics and how it is commonly taught. In the past year, I also had the honor of receiving AGI's Ed Roy, Jr. Award for Excellence in K-8 Earth Science Education.

My classroom is and has always been based on the idea of the world around us — knowledge is best acquired not through belief, but through experience. The experiences that challenge expectation or belief are the ones that shape us the most, and great teachers guide through that experience to build critical thinkers in and out of the science classroom.

Far Western Section - Ryan Hollister

The geosciences dictate the physical rules of life on Earth. As such I strive to let my students experience, explore and learn the processes that control, support and undermine life's existence on this very small planet 93 million miles away from a star that is considered to be average among trillions and trillions of others. Personal, positive, place-based experiences are key methodologies I use to inspire a vested interest within my students. With interest comes intrinsic development of civic and natural responsibility for our wonderful planet - our home.

As a visual and hands-on learner myself, my lectures are animated and littered with tons of photos from my vast field-study and hiking experiences. Demonstrations and activities are frequent, as are relevant real-world examples of how to be geo-smart. More importantly, fun, excitement and intriguing discussions are the order of the day! Life is too short not to have fun on this planet, and I endeavor to make this planet fun for my students.

New England Section - Rodney Ward

I have been teaching 7th grade math and science for 10 years at McAuliffe. During this time, I developed a geology fieldwork and camping program in which students spend 3 days exploring the awesome geology of the Connecticut Rift Valley. In 2007 I became a Fund for Teachers Fellow with a grant to participate in a Feathered Dinosaur Expedition in Liaoning, China with Dr. Hailu You and Dr. Peter Dodson. I have taught two Master Classes at Expeditionary Learning National Conferences on using local geologic resources to build fieldwork. I have spent time in Montana and surroundings working with paleontologists from Montana State University and am always on the lookout for fieldwork opportunities.

North Central Section - Ann Anderson

Ann Anderson has been an educator for sixteen and a half years and has spent the last nine years teaching fifth grade science and social studies at Belle Fourche Middle School in the Belle Fourche School District. She has also taught in Langdon, ND, Sugar Land, TX, Hazelton, ND, and Spearfish, SD. Ann has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Education from Jamestown College and a Master's in Education Science Curriculum and Instruction from Black Hills State University. She is certified elementary education and endorsed middle school science, Language Arts, and social studies. Ann is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood Generalist and has won the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science 2012. 
Ann's teaching philosophy is every child, every minute, every day. Ann believes learning can happen anywhere and has continued her education by participating in the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teachers Academy in New Jersey. She has been recognized as a NASA Stellar Teacher for two years and served as a Great Expectations in Math and Science Associate. Ann has received the 1999 Class B East Region Girls' Cross-Country Coach of the Year, the 2012 Daniel Swets Robotics Materials Award, and a district iPad grant for 30 classroom iPads.

Ann has also been a leader amongst her local staff as a member of her district's Building Leadership Team, presenting at the Technology and Innovation in Education Conference, and leading district in-services. As an advisor to the BFMS Math and Science Club, Ann traveled to Arizona with the 8th graders to study the geology of the Salt River and Grand Canyon.

Pacific Northwest Section - Andrew Bagley

I have been teaching for 14 years at Shorewood High School in Shoreline, WA. I received my BS in Geological Sciences from Tufts University in Somerville, MA and my teaching certificate from California State University Long Beach. I received my National Board Certification in Physics in 2010. I have taught UW-Geology at Shorewood since 2003, a class taught in conjunction with the University of Washington's Extension School. 
In my teaching, I take pride to showcase Pacific Northwest geology. Our region has just about every major geologic phenomenon covered in the introductory textbooks. From the Cascade volcanoes and the Channeled Scablands to the impending mega-thrust earthquake with associated tsunamis, landslide and lahars, it is easy to look out the window instead of relying on typical PowerPoint slides. 
A challenge to any geology class is to get students outdoors to see the complexity and beauty of the real geologic world – showing pictures on the screen cannot replicate the hands-on field experience. To this end, I take students on two overnight camping field trips, one highlighting the Channeled Scablands of Central WA and the other examining the accreted terranes and ophiolites of the San Juan Islands. 
All too often geology in the high school gets relegated to a credit-recovery styled "Earth Science" class. It has been immensely satisfying to give my students a dose of genuine college-level geology, and use local resources and opportunities to help them gain an understanding of the geologic region in which they live.

Outside of the classroom, spending time in the outdoors with my children continues to inform my teaching practice. Seeing the natural world from the eyes of a 5 year-old, and attempting to answer their fundamental questions (Why is the sky blue? Does wind make noise?) about the world is inspiring and keeps me on my toes!

Southeastern Section - Susan Oltman

A native of New York, Susan obtained an Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech and worked in that field, later returning to GSU for a Master of Education and changed careers to teaching. Susan has taught science for 10 years, 7 in Earth Science. Teaching honors include for 2015:Teacher of the Year, NASA SOFIA Fellow, 2014 PAEMST State Finalist, 2013 Honeywell Educator, 2012 NOAA Teacher at Sea. Her greatest honor, however, are visits from former students. Connecting our content to how it is used in the real world drives my classroom. She has had visits and Skypes from professionals such as a former NOAA commissioner, ocean drilling teams and nanotechnology entrepreneurs. Seeking out new professional development, summer grants, as well as vacations constantly changes lesson plans. Examples include Ossabaw Island ecology, Fisheries at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Grand Canyon geology tour, and the Montana Dig Field School. As a member of ISTE, integrating technology into the classroom keeps student engagement high. As a champion of women in STEM careers, she also sponsors girls' NSTA Exploravision Teams each year, who this past year earned honorable mention being in the top 10% nationwide. An avid tweeter, participation and sometimes leading weekly Twitter Chats keeps innovative practices and current events at the forefront of all that goes on in the classroom.

Southwestern Section - Rob Reisener

Rob Reisener has taught science at Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, Arizona for 15 years. He teaches dual enrollment Physical and Historical Geology, a unique arrangement that allows high school students to study geology on campus while simultaneously earning 8 college credits. He takes pride in knowing that many former students have found careers in hydrology, mining, geologic engineering, and environmental science. 

Rob believes that living on Earth without understanding its dynamics is analogous to living in a house without knowing its floor plan. He feels that this is a particularly exciting time to teach and learn Earth Science, because technology makes the Earth's "four spheres" more accessible every day. Google Earth has opened opportunities to embark on global virtual field permission slips required! The internet allows students to analyze Earth systems in real time (e.g., fresh seismic and volcanic data). Rob enjoys learning from his digitally-minded students who recently pointed out the utility of cell phone apps for measuring strike and dip. 

Rob is optimistic that Earth Science's interdisciplinary nature and connection to the economy and environment make Earth Science the ideal venue for realizing Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards. 

Many of Rob's hobby and family activities revolve around the Earth Sciences. For 25 years he has traveled the US instructing farmers on meteorite identification and metal-detecting fields to recover hidden celestial fragments. These efforts have produced new meteorites that are made available to researchers and museums. Last year, Rob was the first to recover meteorites from Arizona's second witnessed fall. These adventures provide fuel for enthusiastic science instruction. 

Rob has published scientific papers relating to mineralogy, metallurgy, and planetary science. He continues to assist researchers by performing sample preparation and optical microscopy on a variety of rocks.


Alabama - Michelle Peterson

My love of rocks and geology started very young. I always had rocks in my pockets. I attended Auburn University and graduated in 1995. I have been teaching ever since, mainly in third grade. I became a member of the Mobile Rock and Gem Society earning the "Rock Hound of Year" award in 2012 for my work as the Youth Activities Chair. I started and maintain the Geology Club at Council. I also teach a Geology Club on the fourth Saturday each month for the Mobile Rock and Gem Society and hold a three day Geology Camp each summer. When I can, I attend Earth Science workshops all over Alabama. My husband and youngest son also help me with the teaching the Junior Rock hounds. 

My earth science teaching philosophy is to put a rock, mineral,or fossil (to keep) in every child's had every class. I try to make every meeting fun and exciting and as "unschool-like" as possible . I love sharing my passion for rocks with children.

Florida - Christine Angel Danger

Christine Angel Danger has taught in Hillsborough Public Schools for the past 13 years, teaching children by day, and teachers on afternoons and Saturdays. Christine has written and implemented teacher workshops in science and STEM, and written curriculum used by Hillsborough County Schools. She has just recently been promoted to district STEM Coordinator where she is directing the development and implementation of K-12 STEM professional development programs for teachers and development of STEM curriculum. 
Christine has a bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of South Florida, a masters in educational leadership from Saint Leo University, and is National Board Certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist. 
She was PRISM Science Teacher of the Year 2009, Hillsborough Teacher of the Year Finalist 2013, and Florida and National Agriculture Teacher of the Year 2015. 
Christine uses integrative teaching approaches to blend science, engineer, technology, and mathematics into exciting and innovative opportunities for students. She enjoys coaching robotics teams, gardening with kids, and teaching students to love math and science. She enjoys traveling the world and collecting rocks as souvenirs. She teaches students and teachers that the real superheroes who are going to "save the world" are the scientists and engineers.

Georgia - Susan Oltman (see Southeastern Section Winner above)

Idaho - Kenneth Berger

I am fortunate to be a secondary science teacher in the Pacific Northwest and specifically at Moscow High School (MHS). Entering my fifth year of teaching I realize that I have the opportunity to learn from my students daily and have come to this profession in a roundabout way. It is a job I would trade for no other! 

After working for multiple years as both a forester and wildlife field biologist, I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in Biology. While conducting graduate research (Phylogeography and Geometric Morphometrics of Sorex vagrans in western N. America) at the University of Idaho, I was part of the NSF GK-12 Program where I taught math and science to elementary students. That changed my whole outlook on the role of teaching and science education. 

I enjoy teaching Earth Science to high school students; they have a natural interest in the world around them and encourage me to view science from different perspectives. I find that Earth Science encompasses all the other sciences, which makes it so important for our students to have an appreciation for the discipline. 

This summer, I will be walking the Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier with fellow MHS science teacher Mark Shipley to help raise awareness of the McCall Outdoor Science School.

Illinois - Joe Schoen

I am currently finishing my 14th year teaching Earth and Space Science at Geneva High School in Geneva, IL. I also teach Physical Science and Geology as an adjunct instructor at Kishwaukee Community College in Malta, IL. I received my Bachelor's Degree in Geology and Anthropology from the University of Illinois in 1997, my Masters Degree in Geoscience Education from the University of Illinois in 2001, and my Masters Degree in Geography and Meteorology from Northern Illinois University in 2010. I am very thankful for the opportunities my great educational experiences have provided for me! 

My approach to teaching is to create a learner-centered atmosphere that uses inquiry-based projects to let students follow their own interests, facilitating critical thinking as they are challenged to find solutions. I implement this learner-centered approach with something I call "Curriculum Choice". In Curriculum Choice, I create several project and coursework options for students in each unit, and give them the opportunity to choose between them (or to create their own). Their choices are based on their particular learning styles, personal interests, and previous background knowledge. Through the options provided, students of all ability levels are focused, self-motivated, challenged, and thrive in a learning environment they direct. I've had the honor and pleasure of successfully leading many students through Curriculum Choice over the years, and have been rewarded by their successes.

Indiana - Heather Hall

I have spent the last 19 years working as an educator in various roles. Throughout that time, I have worked as a middle school teacher, high school biology/physical science teacher, elementary physical education teacher, served as Board of School Trustees member. In addition, I have worked in the area of post secondary education serving as an education field supervisor. I have also worked as an education consultant for conservation organizations by aligning curriculum with state and national standards and also by writing curriculum. 
Honors I have been received include: Walmart Teacher of the Year, Indiana Association of Solid Waste Districts State Environmental Stewardship Award, Outstanding Field Supervisor, IndyStar Educator Merit Award, Disney Hand Creative Teaching National nominee. 
My educational background includes: Bachelor of Science, Saint Joseph's College, High Ability license, Ball State University. 
I feel that students should be provided with rich, authentic learning experiences in the classroom that enable students to make connections from the classroom to the real world. The line is blurred between my classroom and the community. Students should be able to engage in content at level and degree of complexity that meets them at their readiness level. My classroom is one in which a high degree of differentiation takes place. 
I am an education representative on several boards, director of Science CAMP! and Science Buddies, maintain school outdoor lab facility, Secondary High Ability coordinator, Science Olympiad coach, Green Bombers club sponsor.

Iowa - Brandon Fritz

Brandon Fritz has been teaching since the 2000-2001 school year. He currently participates on the district's Lead Leadership Team. He has presented at the local Grant Wood Agency at workshops about personalized learning and standards based grading. He possesses two Masters Degrees: Masters of Education from ONU (Illinois) and Masters of Science Education from Montana State University. 
I approach teaching Earth Science through inquiry and personalized learning where students customize their learning experience through personal investigations and then present their findings and conclusions on important Earth Science and environmental issues.

Louisiana - Lisa Swenson

A sixth grade science teacher and class dean at Isidore Newman School, Lisa Swenson has been teaching for 12 years in both elementary and science teaching. Lisa has a Bachelor's and Master's from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in Education with a specialty in middle school science, and is currently working on a second Master of Science in Geoscience from the University of Mississippi. Lisa earned National Board Certification in Middle Childhood Generalist in 2007. Most recently Lisa has been named a 2014 Louisiana state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching (PAEMST), and since then she has been awarded the Stephen B. Lemann Award for Outstanding Middle School Teaching, and the American Petroleum Institute (API) Chairman's Award. Lisa approaches teaching science in a holistic way, teaching not only the skills that her students need to master, but also how science is best learned by doing. For example, while her students learned how to test the water from a local waterway, Bayou St. John, they worked in groups to consider the role of a Louisiana citizen in keeping the area's watershed, clean. They presented their solutions to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, a local non-profit partner in this project. In implementing projects like this, her students learn much more than the lesson objective ever could achieve.

New York - Kenneth Abbott

Ken Abbott has been teaching Earth science in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District for 25 years. He earned a B.A. in Earth and Space Science from Stony Brook University and an M.S. in Secondary Science Education from Queens College. Ken has been an Earth Science Subject Area Representative (SAR) for the Nassau section of STANYS for the last 10 years. He was the recipient of the 2014 Excellence in Science Teaching Award – Intermediate Level, from the Science Teachers Association of New York State (STANYS). Ken has been a member of the National Earth Science Teachers Association for 10 years. He is a founding member of the New York Earth Science Teachers Association (NYESTA) and is currently the vice president of the organization. Ken has helped organize events and geologic field conference through his leadership with NYESTA. He presents workshops for other educators locally and at statewide conferences. Although he enjoys the opportunity to work and collaborate with fellow Earth science teachers, his greatest joy is teaching his students at Grand Avenue Middle School. Ken creates a challenging caring classroom where students excel and learn to love Earth science.

North Carolina - Rebekah Fuerst

In Rebekah Fuerst's 5 years of teaching, she has strived to incorporate the Earth and Earth Sciences into every aspect of her classroom. Her sixth grade classroom is filled with lessons that excite her students, not only about science, but the earth. Through labs, real world connections, and her natural love of science, Rebekah's students are re-ignited with a love of science students often lose when entering middle school. From a young age, Rebekah has been inspired and awed by the earth. Her father, a high school teacher and geologist would take her on adventures where she was taught about the world around her, and used for scale in pictures of rock outcrops. 
She took this love of the Earth with her, and majored in Geological Science at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill. During her senior year, she decided she wanted to share her love of science with young adults, and enrolled at Boston University's School of Education where she earned a Master of Arts in Science Teaching. She has now taught sixth grade for five years in both Massachusetts and North Carolina to a wide variety of students from the academically gifted to those at risk in both inner city and rural public schools. She is excited about sharing her love of the earth until she retires. Ms. Fuerst has presented at many NSTA, NCSTA, and GSA Conferences on encouraging the Earth Science's in classrooms and encouraging future majors.

Ohio - Beth Holmes

With only three years of teaching under her belt, Beth Holmes' feels that her greatest attribute to her students is her passion for science and connecting the content to real world experiences. As the team's science teacher and coordinator of 5th grade camp, Beth instills an excitement to view every day activities interwoven throughout Earth's processes. Her classroom encompasses a family-like atmosphere and utilizes a variety of teaching and learning techniques that helps meet the needs for all students. Hands-on, real-life science lessons and labs that motivate students, teaching team collaboration and cooperation, are her strengths. 

As the advisor of the EcoWarriors, an afterschool science club, Etna students research and implement recycling programs within the building, earning funds to be used for the outdoor classroom. This classroom enables all students to apply science concepts learned in class. However, her greatest gift to the 300 elementary students is coordinating 5th grade science camp, where students perform hands-on discovery, team building, personal growth and find a new appreciation for the environment.

Oregon - Christopher Carlton

Chris has been teaching Earth Science and Geology classes in Nyssa, Oregon for the last 7 years. Before teaching in Nyssa, Chris taught as an adjunct Faculty member at BYU-Idaho where he received bachelor degrees in Geology and Earth Science education. In the summer of 2013 he completed a master's degree in Geosciences from Mississippi State. The depth of knowledge learned has been a great benefit for my students who want to know more. 
Making a difference in students' lives is my goal in teaching. Learning is a lifelong skill; connecting and teaching students how to learn is the daily challenge. Creating lessons where hands on is a must and if we can incorporate food, it always makes for a better learning moment. Developing/Teaching a STEM class has been a fun challenge where the students prepped and constructed a greenhouse and aquaponic system, this year they were able to grow and harvest for the first time. When not in the greenhouse students learn how to construct and program robots. 
When he is not coaching, or supporting his students in their many endeavors. Chris loves spending time with his wife, Dawn and their children, gardening, traveling, camping, and photographing nature.

Pennsylvania - Blake Colaianne

Blake Colaianne is on a mission to bring the Earth Sciences to the forefront of high school education. He is in his 5th year of teaching at Dallastown Area High School in York, PA after earning a BS in Earth Science Education from Juniata College and a MEd in Earth Sciences from Penn State University. After teaching Earth and Space science for three years, Blake realized a more advanced course was needed. So, he wrote and developed the curriculum for an upper level Earth Sciences course that aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards. 

The need to go beyond content and teach the skills of a scientist is at the heart of Blake's teaching philosophy. He requires his students to write an interdisciplinary research paper and present a technical presentation to their peers to mimic a scientific conference. Geoscientists will Skype into Blake's classroom often to talk about their careers and research. To date, ten of Blake's former students are pursuing a degree in an Earth Science field. 

Blake's research and curriculum innovations have been published in the Journal of Geoscience Education and The Science Teacher, and he has presented his work at various science and education conferences.

South Carolina - Jennifer Pitman

Jennifer Bowling Pitman currently teaches 5th Grade at Anderson Mill Elementary School in Moore, South Carolina. She has taught in the Spartanburg 6 School District for eleven years and was named the 'teacher of the year' at Lone Oak Elementary School in 2006. Her science classes combine the best of collaborative learning methods with principles of the scientific method. Students begin a new study topic by brainstorming ideas and making predictions. Group experimentation follows, using models, lab equipment, and measuring devices, leading to class discussions, evaluation of the data, and the writing up of scientific conclusions. Her goal is to generate an open and culturally diverse learning atmosphere in the classroom where students can become active thinkers and learners. 
Ms. Pitman keeps up with emerging technologies in the classroom. She has received training in the Activ-Inspire program to maximize the effective use of her Promethean Board, and uses PowerSchoolTM, a web-based student information system that links teachers, parents, and students. She also helps plan and coordinate the annual three day field trip to the Barrier Island Education Center, helps run the school science fair, and leads the student 4H/Pet Pals Club. She also serves in local community and church ministries.

Wisconsin - Adam Keeton

Adam has been teaching Earth and Space Sciences for the past 14 years at North High and has served as the chair for the past 2. His courses are designed with a focus on making sure his students understand the processes involved in scientific discovery through asking meaningful questions and seeking the truth through experimentation. He has engaged his students in research through NASA, the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, GAVRT (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope) and others focusing on authentic scientific inquiry. He has been nominated by his students to receive the Excellence in Education award and UWEC's Distinguished Service Award. He received his BS from UW- Eau Claire, his Masters from UW Oshkosh and his Educational Leadership Certification from Viterbo University in Lacrosse. Adam is married to his wife Katie (who is also in public education) and his two sons Jett (6) and Ames (3).