Initial Publication Date: July 20, 2016

2016 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 - Troy J. Simpson

Troy J. Simpson has been teaching at Glenn Raymond School since 2001, primarily 8th grade Earth science. He earned his Bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois in 1994 in geography and geology. He spent one year at the Illinois State Geological Survey before attending Olivet Nazarene University to earn a Master's degree in teaching to pursue his passion of bringing geoscience to students. His philosophy is to make Earth science relevant and active to his students. When students can relate to the subject and make connections, the influence on learning is tremendous. His classes focus on bringing all concepts back home to Iroquois County and on how geologic and Earth science events impact students. His students utilize everything from stream table modeling; to rock weathering activities; to his extensive mineral, rock, and fossil collection; to weather forecast modeling in order to help make the science more tangible. He takes advantage of trips with students to sites, such as Turkey Run S.P., Starved Rock S.P., and Maquoketa Caves S.P., to help them relate to the concepts they learn in class. He coaches the school's Science Olympiad team, which has been very successful, earning several state medalists in Earth science events. He also serves as a Geo-Logic Mapping event supervisor at both the regional and state level for Science Olympiad. He co-sponsors the school's science club in which nearly 75% of students, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, participate in at least one activity, including canoeing, geocaching, rocketry, and HAM radio. He also is the head girls track coach at Watseka Community High School and serves on the Watseka Library Board.

Troy has served two terms on the Board of the Illinois Science Teachers Association and helped initiate their outstanding new teacher award. He is a member of NSTA and NESTA and is interested in reviving an Illinois geoscience teachers organization. He was named ISTA's 2007 Outstanding Teacher of Science. He has been awarded numerous grants, including MSNet, Illinois State Museum Geology Online grant, and ARRL's Education Technology Program's grant to help establish an amateur radio station at the school (W9GRS), which students use not only to make contacts around the world, but also to study how the sun influences atmospheric conditions and communications. He has a passion for science and continues to be active in geologic-based activities and coursework, which he carries over to his own classroom. He is active in cave exploration/surveying and is a Life Member of the National Speleological Society and the Cave Research Foundation. Troy has presented at conferences at every level, sharing the unique learning opportunities that take place in his classroom and at Glenn Raymond School. He has written several articles and is a credited member of the ISGS team that revised How to Read Illinois Topographic Maps.

A quote from Roy Chapman Andrews posted above the door as students leave Troy's classroom epitomizes his philosophy and what he tries to instill in his students: "Always there has been an adventure just around the corner...and the world is still full of corners!" This is his charge to students as they seek out those adventures and discoveries wherever they might be.

Far Western Section - Laura Branch

Laura's interest in geology and the environment was sparked during family vacations across the United States and through geology field trips, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Colorado Plateau, Long Island, Mt. Shasta, and--her favorite area--Mammoth, California. Beyond enjoying hiking, camping and learning about the geologic formations of a location, she loves teaching Earth science to students of all levels. She feels that there is nothing better than turning students on to the basic processes of geology and having them research how those processes have shaped different areas around the world.

After attending Santa Barbara City College, she attended San Diego State University where she graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor's degree in geological sciences. It was there that she started thinking about teaching students about her love of the Earth, geological processes that shape the world, and the environment. After getting a single subject teaching credential from UC Santa Barbara, along with a master of education, she walked into the classroom to start teaching in the fall of 1999. 

After 17 years of teaching, she still loves it. In addition to teaching, she loves planning curricula for her classes. She enjoys participating in professional development that helps her gain extra knowledge needed for creating engaging curricula. She has done externships with different corporations around her community not only to strengthen the partnerships between them and the schools but also to learn more about the industry. She has gone to Hawaii to attend the Project Lava teacher workshop that helped her put together engaging labs on plate tectonics and hot spots. During the summer of 2016, she is embarking on a trip to the Amazon Rainforest to study the ecosystem and geology of the area. She cannot wait to start planning new curricula with the information she gains. Here's to hoping that a bot fly doesn't get her, although a lesson in parasites could be an interesting way to go....

Midcontinent Section - Will Squires

Will has been teaching high school science courses at Caddo Hills High School for eight years, five of which included teaching a physical geology course. He has always felt that the geosciences were underserved in the high school curriculum, and as a result, he has always tried to tie in the Earth sciences to all of his other classes. For the first five years, he struggled with ways to motivate and engage his students because they didn't all show a natural desire to learn. Between his fifth and sixth years, he was able to be a part of a professional development opportunity provided by a partnership between QTL and Arkansas Tech University. It was there that he found a way to get his students engaged through the use of real-world and meaningful projects. Now, he is able to get students interested in geoscience ideas within other disciplines of science, as well through the use of short-term and long-term projects. During the 2014-2015 school year, his environmental science class became a national finalist in the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition with a project that dealt with flash flooding in the rural Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas. His school won $35,000 in technology as a result of the project, and his students walked away with the knowledge that what they are doing in the classroom has a real impact outside of the classroom. He is very thankful for this honor and thankful to all of his mentors and colleagues who have helped him to get to this point in his career.

New England Section - Joan Kadaras

Joan Kadaras has been teaching Earth and space science in both middle and high school for over 32 years. She was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow in Environmental Inquiry-Based Learning in 1997. She received the 2003 Mass DOE Distinguished Secondary Educator Award and the S.T.A.R.S. (Science Teachers Area Resource Swap) Elaine Adams Award. In 2002, she was selected out of a national pool for the Teacher Leaders in Research-Based Science Education in Astronomy participating in solar and stellar research alongside astronomers on Kitt Peak in Arizona. With the expertise gained she mentored several high school students in their own independent research. This resulted in one of her students being awarded the privilege to travel to Arizona to gather data for his research using the large spectroscope at Kitt Peak. (His original research findings were later published in the TLRBSE Journal.)

Joan was on the original D.O.E. MCAS Committee as a contributor to the first Massachusetts High School Earth Science Frameworks in 1999-2001 and from 2004-2012 was a member of the MCAS ADC which wrote and reviewed the 8th grade science MCAS test questions. Most recently (2010 – 2016), she was a member of the DESE STE Panel for MA Frameworks K-12 Review and the Massachusetts NGSS Advisory Group revamping the 2001 frameworks.

She received her Bachelor's degree from Boston State College Sec. Ed. in Earth and natural sciences and her Master's in teachers in geosciences from Mississippi State University in 2006 with her capstone work around Lake Superior and Lake Michigan areas. She is a lifelong learner who enjoys taking courses each year or traveling the world to see the processes and concepts she is teaching.

Joan has the philosophy that the best way for students to learn Earth science is by observing Earth's processes that are all around and by letting nature speak. Students learn best by discovering the patterns of nature. She firmly believes Earth science education is very important to allow her students to become informed stewards of our planet.

North Central Section - Sharla Hanzlik

Niobrara, Nebraska is the perfect place to teach high school science. Just outside Sharla's classroom are Niobrara/Pierre contact outcrops, glacial moraines, sandhills, native prairies, landslides, delta wetlands, sandbars, and the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. She graduated from the University of South Dakota (Bachelor's degree in Earth science) almost 10 years ago and has taught in Niobrara ever since. Her school superintendent father, high school teachers, and professors at USD strongly influenced her teaching philosophy.

In her desk drawer, a little sticky-note reads: "Contaminate them with enthusiasm". She loves science, her students, and teaching. She immerses students in geology as much as possible. They go to Ashfall Fossil Beds, the planetarium, and even to the Black Hills/Badlands of South Dakota for three days. She has experts come and talk. Her students research, write, travel, discuss, argue, listen, and campaign for change. She tries to take this same approach in all of her classes: chemistry, biology, A&P, advanced biology, STEM, oceanography, ecology, and physical science. All of her classes use real-life "field" science in the classroom. Her biology classes have been keynote speakers at multiple invasive species conferences in the midwest talking about their Purple Loosestrife project.

Her previous major awards include: 2008-09 Nebraska Environmental Teacher of the Year, 2009 State Farm "Growing to Greatness" State Award Winner, 2010 National Youth Leadership Association's Service Learning National Award Winner, 2011 Seaworld/Busch Gardens Youth Environmental Project of the Year, 2011 National Science Teachers Association Environmental Teacher of the Year Finalist, 2011 Western Regional RC&D Youth Project of the Year, 2011 Presidential Environmental Youth Award from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Pacific Northwest Section - Jonathan Hill

Jonathan Hill began teaching at Marshfield High School 10 years ago. After earning a degree from Brigham Young University-Idaho in Earth science education, he was hired as a physical science teacher. At that time, Marshfield had not offered any form of Earth science class for a few years. He quickly began the development of a new elective class, known as the "Geology of Natural Disasters." He then began teaching physics while concurrently pursuing a Master's degree in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in technology integration.

With the establishment of the Next Generation Science Standards as the new Oregon Science Standards, Jonathan was a strong proponent of Marshfield establishing a required Earth and space class that had to be developed from scratch in order to meet these new demands. With the advent of these new standards, he has reached out to lower grades. This has helped elementary teachers integrate science into their classrooms, meet the demands of the new standards, and excite younger students about science.

Jonathan believes the most significant role of an effective educator is to help students develop into lifelong learners. For this, students need hands-on learning experiences, knowledge about what resources and organizations are available to them, and excitement about learning. Thus, Jonathan's students do not hear lectures, but rather are actively engaged in exploring, analyzing, and doing science. 

Jonathan further encourages student excellence and the application of science through the establishment and maintenance of a local chapter of the Science National Honor Society. He is currently working to establish a Teen Community Emergency Response Team (Teen CERT) club at the high school that will allow students to apply the Earth sciences to real-world concerns. Jonathan has previously been recognized as a 2007 OSTA Early Career Outstanding High School Classroom Teacher.

Southeastern Section - Lindsay Knippenberg

Lindsay Knippenberg is a high school science teacher at Mooresville Senior High School in Mooresville, North Carolina where she has taught marine science and environmental Earth science for the past four years. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she serves as an advisor for several clubs, facilitates a program to bring STEM into the lower elementary grades, and is a coach for the girl's soccer team. Prior to Mooresville, Lindsay taught for seven years outside the city of Detroit, MI and was an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow for two terms with the NOAA Office of Education in Washington, DC. One of Lindsay's passions is to bring science to all learners including students with disabilities and lower elementary students. She invites students of all abilities into her classroom and provides experiences where everyone has the opportunity to participate and be inspired by science. Her other passion is to connect her students to scientists and real-time data to inspire them to be the next generation of scientists. She has participated in the Ocean Exploration Trust Science Communications Fellowship, NOAA Teacher at Sea, and the NSF PolarTREC program. Through these experiences, she has traveled to Antarctica, the Bering Sea, Galapagos Islands, and Caribbean Sea to bring real science into her classroom and to inspire her students to be scientists, too.

Lindsay Knippenberg graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor's degree in biological sciences and completed her Masters degree in environmental science at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

Southwest Section - Matt Affolter

Matt Affolter has been teaching since 2011. He is also Education Chair of the Utah Geological Association, Technology Chair for the Ballpark Community Council, and teaches classes at Salt Lake Community College. He got his Bachelor's degree in geology from UCLA, his Master's degree in geology from University of Montana, and his Master's degree in teaching from the University of Utah.

Matt is originally from Ridgecrest, California, but has lived in Salt Lake City for the last decade. His interest in Earth science started out with a love of dinosaurs as a child, but broadened after the M6.7 Northridge Earthquake in 1994. Living in nearby Sylmar at the time, the damage to his home was so severe that his family was displaced for 2 ½ months.

Matt has also won the 2014 Earth Science Teacher of the Year, given by the Utah Geological Association. He used his award to be an advocate for acceptance of Earth Science on equal footing with respect to the other major sciences. The biggest obstacle to teaching in this field is the perception, both imagined and propagated, that geology and Earth science are inferior to other science disciplines. In the state of Utah, Earth science is one of the four major science courses with curricula provided by the state. However, the board of regents does not recognize Earth science as a proper science class, causing councilors statewide to funnel bright and talented students away from Earth science. This is a huge problem that Matt is working to solve!

Texas Section - Sabrina Ewald

Sabrina Ewald has been an Earth science teacher for the past 16 years. After earning her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at Louisiana Tech University, she began teaching 8th grade science in Richardson ISD. She is currently teaching and a curriculum writer for Earth-Space science and AP Environmental Science in Frisco ISD. She also established a STEM club at her current school, Centennial High School. In the summer, Sabrina teaches for the Duke TIP Program for gifted and talented students in 7th-11th grade. She has taught Earth science and a geoscience course she designed during which students investigated historical geology, fossil fuel and resource formation, and the mining industry. In 2013, Sabrina was runner-up for the AAPG Teacher of the Year for the SW Section and in 2014 she was selected as Teacher of the Year. 

Sabrina wants students to relate to the content, so she finds ways to prove how what they are learning has meaning in their daily lives. Loving new adventures, she finds teacher field experiences which provide exciting new class activities and materials. Participating in G-Camp for Teachers for two weeks in 2010 and 2014 allowed her to learn more about geological processes and formations by traveling Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. She has also participated in Texas Mining and Reclamation Association workshops to learn more about mining coal, industrial minerals, and uranium. Students are able to use field samples, photographs, GIS and satellite imagery, and computer applications in order to immerse themselves into Earth science! She has even used her travels to Pompeii during her plate tectonics and volcanism unit. Sabrina loves hearing from former students and how they have applied the knowledge they gained in her classes. She strives to continue inspiring students to be inquisitive and appreciative of the world around them.


Alabama - Kathryn Busby

Kathryn is currently in her ninth year of teaching. She is a third grade teacher at Tuscaloosa Magnet School Elementary. She graduated from the University of Alabama in Elementary Education in 2007. She earned her National Board certification in 2014 and will graduate with a Master;s in library media in 2016. She is currently an Alabama Math Science & Technology (AMSTI) third grade science trainer. She facilitates science training for teachers in the West Alabama In-Service Center on best practices and methods for science instruction.

Kathryn believes in inquiry-based learning, which encompasses many different teaching and learning approaches. It is student-centered and promotes critical thinking and problem solving through projects, questioning, and hands-on activities. Inquiry-based curriculum supports students' efforts to create meaning by drawing on their prior knowledge, engaging through new experiences, and offering opportunities for reflection. As a science teacher, she takes complex science topics and breaks them down so that all learners can understand and relate to the topic in meaningful ways. Furthermore, she enables students to engage in argument from evidence, as well as construct explanations and design solutions. Preparing students to use these vital skills is a goal that is dear to her heart. One of her greatest accomplishments has been fostering a love for scientific inquiry in all of the students she has been privileged to teach.

Arizona - Pradip Misra

Pradip has been teaching and learning science for more than 20 years. During this time, everyday in his teaching career he has experienced the thrill of teaching and learning science, which has inspired him to find new ways of learning and teaching. He has his Master's degree (physics), Bachelor's degree (physics, chemistry and math), and Bachelor's degree (science and math teaching). In recognition of his work, he has been awarded many honors, such as the STEM Superhero Award, Yavapai County Teacher of the Year Award, and the Governor's Celebration of Innovation (honorable mention).

His science teaching is a combination of the latest technology and most easily available and common tools. He uses NASA and NOAA satellite imagery to teach weather patterns and floods, USGS real-time data to teach about seismic activities, tree rings to teach about wildfires, ArcGIS software to locate the bird habitats and flood areas, and NASA's live show of curiosity to teach about space. At the same time, he uses cooking to teach about chemical changes, toy rockets for laws of motion, roller coasters to teach about kinetic and potential energy and centripetal force, and catapults for projectile motion.

Colorado - Jessica Kindel

Jessica has been teaching science in Greeley, Colorado for six years. She graduated from University of Colorado, Colorado Springs with a Bachelor's degree in geography and environmental studies and from University of Colorado, Denver with an Master's degree in secondary science. She currently teaches Earth science, geology, and a class about rivers at Jefferson High School. She has developed science curriculum and assessments with the school district since she began her teaching career. Outside of teaching, she works with the Colorado Geographic Alliance to promote geography education through a giant traveling map of our state. She has always loved Earth sciences, and being passionate about teaching, it is easy for her! The best thing about teaching for her is building relationships with her students and watching them learn and grow. Her free time is spent chauffeuring her dogs Chai and Fancy on adventures, riding her horses, watching movies with her African Grey Parrot, and spending time with her boyfriend, Joe.

Florida - Mohamed Kabani

Mohamed is a science coach and subject area leader at Burnett Middle School in Seffner Florida. He has been teaching for 10 years and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Tampa. Previous awards received include Who's Who among America's Teachers, Teacher of Promise and Teacher of Excellence awards.

One of the goals of NAGT is to foster and support Earth science teaching at the K-12 level. Mohamed shares this vision with NAGT. His teaching philosophy is to foster higher-order thinking in the world of science and to have students mak ethe connections between Earth science to other disciplines in the sciences. One such example would be the connection between the geosciences and space science. Why are geologic processes such as volcanism and plate tectonics so vital for life on earth? Why are the planets Venus and Mars in the "Goldilocks" zone for habitable planets just like Earth is, yet harbor no signs of life? What is the connection between an active and dynamic molten Earth core and life sustainability on planet earth? What are the connections between Earth geosciences and that of interdependence in ecosystems? These are all essential and vital connections. His goal as an educator was always to have students make these important connections between all disciplines of science. His goal now, as a science coach, is to provide professional development to teachers so that they too can deliver science content in such a manner that is fun, engaging, and hand on and that fosters higher-level critical-thinking skills. He does this by participating in a Math Science Partnership (MSP) professional development grant in conjunction with both Hillsborough and Polk counties, as well as the University of South Florida, to deliver highly engaging, high-order, hands-on professional development that teachers can take back to the classroom and use to draw connections for their students.

Georgia - Stephen Csukas

Stephen has taught Science at Tucker Middle School (TMS) since it opened in 2004. He was the Program Coordinator in developing TMS as the first STEM Certified Middle School in the State of Georgia. Changing the school culture to a problem-based learning model integrating math, science, technology and engineering and bringing in community partners insured a successful sendoff for the program. TMS hosts sessions to assist school administrators and teachers from around Georgia in their efforts to become STEM certified. Stephen and his teammates have also given invited presentations at various venues around Georgia including Metro RESA's and the GSTA. Stephen partnered with the Stone Mountain Memorial Association to present a geology session at a recent GSTA meeting. Their greatest accomplishment was bringing together a great group of fellow teachers, administrators and community partners to become a vibrant and evolving STEM program that provides a positive impact at TMS, as well as other schools around the state.

Stephen currently teaches a diverse group of 6th grade Earth science students with two classes of sheltered English Language Learners and two classes of STEM students. His philosophy about science education stems from his experience growing up in South Florida where the Everglades, hurricanes, beach environment, and the space program nearby left a lasting thrill about the role that science and the environment plays in our lives. He tries to instill his personal excitement and direct Earth science experiences into hands-on activities for his students.

As part of their STEM program development for Earth science, TMS has partnered with 2nd Story Gardens, the Dekalb Department of Watershed Management and Stone Mountain Memorial Association to bring hands-on aquaponics, gardening, water management, and geology concepts into the classroom. With his math partner Ms. Mau, they developed and integrated an existing NASA Space Math curriculum into a series of activities utilizing existing satellite systems. The curriculum showcased critical STEM discipline cooperation and achieved the goal of showing students how important math is in successful scientific endeavors.

Louisiana - Holly Payton

Holly's background includes 19 years in the healthcare industry, where she decided to make a change in her career and received an alternative certification in middle school math. Her first year of teaching, she taught math, and then for the next seven years, she taught and developed a passion for science at a sixth grade center. She then moved to the middle school where she has taught science for the past two years. She believes her purpose as a teacher is to guide students towards autonomy, mastery, and purpose. She tries to place students on a path of self-directed learning where they ask questions and investigate the answers. She has participated in spectacular professional development opportunities that included programs through her local universities such as RIPPLE, LA-SiGMA, and SciTEC, which have assisted her in accomplishing real world application along with STEM opportunities and creative hands-on lessons for her students. These opportunities have provided the confidence to be a presenter at LSTA and NSTA STEM conferences. She recently completed her Master's degree in educational leadership and was accepted into a Leadership Academy program within her district. She is also involved as a science teacher leader within her district, meeting with other science teachers discussing and planning for professional development across the district. She was the recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award from Louisiana Tech/Grambling State Regional Collaborative in 2015. She received the 2014 Young Educator of the Year Award for Lincoln Parish. In 2013 She received the Middle School Science Teacher of the Year from the Louisiana Science Teachers Association and was the 2011 - 12 Teacher of the Year at I. A. Lewis. In the classroom, she enjoys socratic seminars and introducing students to molecular modeling.

Maryland - Meaghan Richardson

In the 8th grade, Meaghan Richardson focuses on Earth structure and then in the oceanography elective, she elaborates on this to show the impacts of vulcanism on formation and destruction of crust, earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis, and island archipelago formation and destruction. It is wonderful to watch how she highlights these connections for students to create such a multidisciplinary course. Ms. Richardson teaches in both the middle and upper schools, ranging from 8th grade to 12th grade. Meaghan is involved in the current curriculum development to incorporate the NGSS into the freshman and sophomore science courses. This involves a switch from teaching biology and chemistry in these years to teaching them an integrated science program that incorporates a great amount of Earth science, from the Big Bang to changes happening to the Earth today. Students are the first to recognize the material is difficult but Meaghan teaches in such a way to draw students in and engage them in the material, so they want to know more. Students love the little anecdotal stories she tells to relate the material to everyday life. Meaghan includes many case studies in her teaching, including the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. She uses NOVA films that show the investigative approach of the scientists who were trying to find out the cause of the 2004 tsunami. She uses similar films to highlight the past and potential future impacts of these natural disasters on humans and highlight the importance of data-collecting buoys and satellite networks in predicting them. She uses simple models that students practice with to show how sound waves can profile the sea floor to determine bathymetry and why this is useful to humans. Meaghan is an active participant in the school community, in particular as the moderator for the Save The Manatees Club that fundraises for and adopts manatees to ensure their protection. Meaghan helps to organize and implement a biannual school trip to Key Largo, FL that allows students to study coastal marine ecology.

Minnesota - Jody Bergeson

Jody received a Bachelor's degree from the University of Wisconsin- Madison and a Masters of Education degree from the University of Wisconsin- River Falls. She has taught science at Twin Bluff Middle School in Red Wing, MN, for 15 years. Prior to teaching and concurrently, she is a registered nurse for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

Children are naturally curious, and Jody feels that her job is to guide them using meaningful, engaging and novel activities. Students share "nature notes" through words and sketches as they make connections between Earth systems and seasonal biologic phenomena. Students develop scientific questions, conduct labs, and present findings at a scientific poster fair. Student questions guide a tour of the night sky when their classroom becomes a planetarium with glow in the dark stars placed correctly for Minnesota's latitude. Collaboration with a local playwright provides creative dramatics, script writing, reading and performing experiences that emphasize science concepts.

Influential graduate courses that have inspired her to bring fresh ideas into the classroom that include: TIMES (Teaching Inquiry based Middle School Earth Science), River's Institutes (Mississippi and St. Croix), MNAqua Project Wet, and Data Stram Weather and Atmosphere. Professional involvement includes grant writing, previous Science Olympiad coach and MESTA (Minnesota Earth Science Teachers Association) board member.

Mississippi - Shelby J. "Dixie" Houchen

Shelby has been teaching integrated science in the Pearl Public School District for 18 years, the last 15 at Pearl Junior High School. During that time, she has been awarded the Pearl Educational Service Center Teacher of the Year and the Pearl Junior High School Teacher of the Year. She received her Bachelor's degree in education from the University of Southern Mississippi and is currently working toward a Master's in Education, STEM, at Mississippi College.

Her extracurricular activities include volunteering with the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. As a volunteer at the Museum, she regularly works during NATURE-FEST and FOSSIL ROAD SHOW with museum visitors to construct 1/3 scale wooden model of "Ziggy" (Zigorhia kochi), the Mississippi State Fossil. She also participates in the Museum's Second Saturday Event, presenting "Cookie Tectonics," a demonstration of the movement of tectonic plates utilizing sandwich cookies.

The overarching philosophy that guides her work is simply to make science applicable to the outside world for her students. In each of her lessons, she emphasizes real-world uses of science concepts. To that end, she began and sponsors the School's Nature Club, where students learn basic gardening techniques, bird identification, food chains, and recycling. She has also hosted Family Science Night, where her honors students taught science labs to their parents.

New Mexico - Gary Bodman

Gary Bodman has been teaching with Albuquerque Public Schools for the past 10 years. The first seven years in middle school teaching Earth and physical science before moving to his current position teaching high school astronomy, physics, and chemistry.

Gary is currently enrolled in the Master's of Science Teaching program at New Mexico Tech in Socorro. He is the treasurer of the New Mexico Science Teachers Association. Working with groups to improve science education is one of his priorities.

Gary's passion for teaching has included creating after school STEM programs in Robotics and a TECHGyrls program with the YWCA. Astronauts and scientists have been brought into his classroom to stir the imaginations of the students. Applying for grants for field trips to bring the classroom into the community is typical every year.

Approaching teaching in the classroom curriculum from a project-based learning and inquiry environment gives the students the opportunity to make their own discoveries. Classroom activities are supported with lessons from NASA and the Civil Air Patrol as well as the Air Force Research Laboratory and the University of New Mexico School of Engineering.

Ohio - DeAnn O'Toole

DeAnn O'Toole is a 4th grade science teacher from Milford, Ohio. She is passionate about outdoor education and believes that students learn best when they are knee-deep (literally!) in field work. DeAnn has attended a few archaeological digs and has created an authentic (as possible) dig for her students. They learn proper digging techniques, how to measure and record the depth of each level of soil, and how to label artifact bags properly. This year they found fire-cracked rock likely used by Native Americans for cooking!

DeAnn is a founding member of the education committee at Valley View Nature Preserve and is currently writing an outdoor curriculum for them. She was asked to represent the University of Cincinnati by speaking at the Mid-Atlantic Association for Science Teachers Regional Conference. DeAnn was named as an Educator of the Year for 2015-2016 in her school district.

DeAnn has written many articles published in Scholastic's Instructor Magazine on topics including science, outdoor education, math, and technology. She has also penned articles, stories, and poems for children that have appeared in Highlights for Children, Guideposts for Kids, Clubhouse Jr., Hopscotch for Girls, Boys' Quest, Wee Ones, Our Little Friend, Fun for Kidz, and others.

Oregon - Karen Shelton

Karen Shelton began her teaching career in inner-city New Orleans in 2003. After several years of teaching in the South, she had the desire to come back to her hometown. Since her teaching career has started, she has earned her Master's in Education Administration from Grand Canyon University as well as her Educational Specialist in Leadership from Walden University; however, she just hasn't had the desire to leave the classroom. She is an active member in Delta Kappa Gamma and serves on an international committee for the society. She has had a passion for expanding the opportunities that students have, which includes starting programs, such as Lego robotics. Karen takes the opportunity to integrate technology into her classroom whenever possible. She is passionate about teaching Earth science and has the rare opportunity to teach the same content that she took from her grandfather in his old classroom.

South Carolina - Deborah Ezell

Deborah Ezell teaches science at Chesnee High School in Chesnee, South Carolina. Her favorite course is a special Earth science class for seniors that requires chemistry as a prerequisite. She relies on innovative technology and project-based learning to motivate, challenge, and engage her students. One such lesson utilizes a very high resolution scanner and printer. The students observe chemical reactions in Petri dishes that are placed on the scanner; for example an acid-base neutralization reaction taking place in a small, thin piece of sponge. The acid and the base are colored differently. The scanner takes images of the reaction and then the student selects the best image and prints it out on a 1200 dpi color printer. The images are stunning! The students are proud of their "artwork," which is displayed in the classroom.

Deborah works well with students of all ability levels. She is an expert at using the Promethean Board and other classroom technology and balances these methods with a wide array of hands-on investigations. She has a remarkable ability to adjust to any classroom situation that may arise. She ties everything done in her class to concepts of sustainability and environmental stewardship and inculcates these ideas through practical applications, such as creating sustainable ecosystems in large plastic bottles and examining porosity and permeability of various soil mixtures in outdoor raised garden beds. Her students plant and maintain these gardens and distribute the food to those in need in the community.

Deborah was the catalyst behind the recycling programs now underway at both the high school and middle school, and is one of the leaders of the STEAM Academy at Chesnee High School. She organizes other community service projects through the school Beta Club chapter and was recently voted 'Teacher of the Year' at her school.

Tennessee - John Griffin

John Griffin earned his Bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Tennessee at Martin, but did not directly enter the workforce. To gather experience, John joined the U.S. Peace Corps as an Environmental Educator in Peace Corps Poland. John taught environmental education and Earth science to local high school students. From this experience, John realized that the teaching process should be a collaborative effort. John encourages his students to take ownership of their education, so he strives to build an alliance with his students, and by working with John on various projects, they become invested in their education with motivation to meet their goals. He characterizes his teaching methods as "eclectic". Additionally, he integrates Earth science into all of the subjects he teaches at South Side High School in Jackson, Tennessee because most Tennessee schools do not have dedicated courses in Earth science.

John summarizes his success: "I found through my knowledge of Earth science classes like biology, chemistry, and physical science are gold mines for Earth science integration. The more I am able to vary the types of educational activities, the more I can stimulate students to learn. I not only want my students to leave my classroom with knowledge of the subject, but with an understanding of the Earth around us." John is sought after by numerous organizations to share his approaches for integrating Earth systems science into the high school science curriculum. In 2014, his school district asked him to serve on their baseline literacy committee, and now, every high school biology student in his district is required to read Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould. John is also a Tennessee STEM Leadership Fellow, a West Tennessee STEM master teacher, and president of the Tennessee Earth Science Teachers (TEST).

Texas - Belinda Jacobs

Belinda has taught for 11 years in a variety of course and grade-level assignments, including six years at the middle school level, where she taught 6th and 8th grade science both as a general education teacher and as a special education inclusion teacher. For the past five years, Belinda has taught at Cedar Ridge HS in Round Rock, TX, with assignments including biology, physics, integrated physics & chemistry (IPC), and she initiated the astronomy and Earth & Space science programs, four and three years ago, respectively. Most recently, she piloted the OnRAMPS geoscience dual-enrollment course with the University of Texas at Austin on the CRHS campus and was nominated for OnRAMPS Instructor of the Year. Belinda is also an Adjunct Associate Professor of Geology at Austin Community College, where she has taught physical geology. She holds a Bachelor's degree in elementary education from Louisiana Tech University and a Master's in geosciences from Mississippi State University.

Belinda's passion for Earth science education extends beyond her classroom. She has served on multiple district curriculum leadership committees in astronomy, ESS, IPC, and 8th grade science. She served as a curriculum development team member of the NSF-funded Diversity and Innovation in Geosciences (DIG) Texas Blueprints project , where she helped developed curriculum roadmaps for HS Earth and Space Science and presented on the project at annual GSA and AGU meetings. She is a member of NAGT, AGU, GSA, NSTA, AWG, and NESTA, and is currently the President –Elect of the National Earth Science Teachers Association. Belinda's primary mission is to bring the earth sciences to as many as possible, of all ages/levels, both through formal and informal education.

Utah - Kirk Wright

Kirk has been teaching science for 11 years. He has received the Crystal Apple Award, the Mt. Nebo Junior High Teacher of the Year Award, and the Daily Herald's Teacher of the Week Award. He graduated from BYU and UVU. He is currently working on his Master's at Mississippi State. He believes all students are unique and deserve a unique experience. He believes in mercy and justice with mercy coming first. He believes that the young people we teach are all important and need to feel important. He believes in always raising the bar of expectation and holding students accountable; that they need to know that they can do hard things and that teachers are behind them as they strive for that self-realization. He is involved in the science fair, underwater robotics, and his school's chess team.

Washington - Dustin Smith

Dustin has been teaching for over 20 years. He earned his Bachelor's degree from W.S.U. and completed his masters in 1999 from Heritage College. Although he has taught various subjects and grade levels, Dustin is currently teaching six sections of a science application class, 6th-8th grade. He created his own curriculum for this program and designed hands-on projects for students to build working in teams. Friendly competitions between teams engage the students. Dustin believes that small group, project-based learning is more impactful with a performance goal or standard students are trying to achieve. Students gain competencies by designing, building, and testing. As students work through and repeat the engineering process, many real-world problems materialize. Real-life applications such as deadlines, budget proposals, and planning are all part of the experience. Dustin's personal budget is extremely small, so he depends upon creativity and innovation to find and recycle materials to fill in the gaps. Projects include solar ovens, egg drop water bottle rockets, earthquake-proof bridges, tower building, gravity-powered cars, hot air balloons, turbines, air-powered cars, winged air trajectory for accuracy, and barge building. Dustin is also involved with Science Club and Science Olympiad and he coaches football, basketball, and track.