ISTA Award Winners 2011-2012
For questions about the ISTA Awards Programs, please contact Jill Bucher, ISTA Awards Chair firstname.lastname@example.org.
ISTA is grateful to the ExxonMobil Foundation and the Chicago Drug and Chemical Association for the $1000 stipends provided to outstanding science teachers and providing conference registration fees for the outstanding new teachers.
ISTA Outstanding Illinois Teachers of Science
Chris Embry Mohr, a 9-12 agriculture science teacher at Olympia High School in Stanford, IL has worked on a farm milking cows, researched corn hybrids and served as an agricultural education consultant. All of these experiences have helped her shape a unique and diverse science classroom and philosophy about education. Chris uses the agricultural approach to teach science concepts because it integrates various topics such as food production, medical research as well as new technologies. One example of Chris’ innovative integration is an award winning project that utilized hydroponics in the school’s greenhouse. Andrew Wise, business and operations manager at Olympia, partnered with Chris on this project and said "Chris had a vision ... challenged students to design and build a system which would produce vegetables. (S)tudents created hydroponic systems (with) creativity, ingenuity, and imagination. Utilizing the latest technology in tablets and probes, students conduct(ed) "growth" experiments ... ranging from soil types, water pH levels, lighting, water flow rates ... and a variety of other growing and environmental factors." With students taking ownership of their systems and completely immersed in the concept, Chris took the project a step further by seeing that the fruits and vegetable were served in the school cafeteria like the current farm to table movement. This project was presented at NSTA in Indianapolis this year and drew a crowd of curious science teachers beyond anything she imaged. According to Brandi Cooper, a fellow science teacher at Olympia, Chris revamped the science curriculum to include research based projects that included cross-curricular aspects. "Chris also serves on the National Writing Teach for the Next Generation Science Standards ... insuring the new standards are challenging and usable in the classroom." Her teaching has evolved from just memorizing facts to incorporating "scientific and engineering practices" so students can move beyond the basics to critical thinkers and decision makers. Thank you so much for your dedication and innovation Chris. Great job!
Emily Dawson, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Riverview Grade School in East Peoria, IL, has an endless amount of activities that keeps everyone at her school asking "What she is up to now?" From exploding pumpkins to lessons in boiling points of bubbling liquids dressed up to as a witch, Emily keeps her students engaged by having fun with science. In January, the 7th graders competed in the ASCE Bridge Bust competition to see if the bridges they constructed encompassed the fundamentals of physics concepts while the 8th graders dissected various specimens aided by 3D interactive technology on the classroom white board. In addition, both classes are sending photograph requests to EarthKAM on the International Space Station to use in a multi-disciplinary unit that includes History and Language Arts classes. Another amazing and successful job Emily has taken on is grant writing. With all of the financial issues many districts are facing, Emily has not let that deter her. Here a few of the grants she has been awarded just in the last few years: American Society of Civil Engineers 2011 State Public Affairs Grant (SPAG); STEM Education Outreach Activities at RGS, $1050; Environmental Education Association of Illinois 2011 Mini-Grant, $200; PNC Foundation 2012 FirstGrant, BrickLab Implementation K-8, $1000; 2009-2010 FirstGrant, Robot Build 2010 $900, Challenger Learning Center 2012 Grant recipient, 2011 Grant recipient, 2010 Grant recipient; DonorsChoose.org 2011 Worm Power $761, 2011 Bird is the Word $765; 2011 Illinois Water Quality and Conservation $739; 2010 Environmental Education $640; 2010 Pond $1062; 2009 Yellowjacket Gardening/Greenhouse $620. Joseph Blessman, Riverview’s superintendent, shares, "When our budget limits ... activities ... Mrs. Dawson finds as way... (She) has written numerous grants ... to do activities that they otherwise would ... not been able to experience." With her record of success I am sure everyone would be anxious for her to share her secrets. As one can see, Emily is dedicated to reaching her students in every way possible. Great job, Emily!! Congrats!
Jeremy French, a 6-8th grade science teacher at St. Joseph School in Olney, IL, has been able to redefine his method of teaching for his students’ learning by incorporating more hands on investigations leaving the wrote and memorization behind. He found that that simple change encouraged his students’ to start asking "what if" which led to them experimenting more. With this new excitement generated around Jeremy’s science classes, he decided to expand their learning about scientific investigations by offering a science fair. The students begin their projects in August and use the scientific method as the guidelines for designing, researching and writing about their experiments. By the end of January they are expected to have completed their research as well as written their papers in order to compete in the local, regional and state science fairs. Jeremy’s students have consistently advanced to state with papers and projects receiving "best in category" honors. Iffat Ali, the chair for Illinois Junior Academy of Science Region 4, praises Jeremy for his dedication to the science Fair. Mr. Ali commented, "(Jeremy) religiously brought his school … every year driving over 100 miles. Many times he paid the entry fees for the students, drove them to the competitions, cheered, complimented and encouraged them. His students always earned good marks and outstanding awards..." Carol Potter, principal of St. Joseph, also mentions, "Mr. French’s commitment to the State Science Fair and student success in this endeavor serves our children and families well. The local high school teacher(s) consistently praise our students ..." In addition to science fair, Jeremy has brought StarLab and Camp Invention to diversify his students’ science knowledge. StarLab is a large inflatable dome that allows students to view the solar system as well as Native American mythology related to constellation, plate tectonics and ocean currents. Camp Invention is a summer program offered to students from all over the area to use their scientific knowledge to solve work problems through new inventions they create. Jeremy’s dedication to improving student learning through various programs and projects shows how important he is to his school and the community. Congratulations on a job well done!!!
Joe Jakupcak, a high school geology and environmental science teacher from Ottawa Township in Ottawa, IL, has devoted his entire educational career to teaching science formally and informally. His remarkable legacy began in 1973 and has consistently included professional honors, presentations, workshops, organization leadership roles, and maintaining memberships in NSTA, NAGT, ISTA and NESTA up to the year 2011. It is clear that Joe has touched many students’ lives through the incorporated hands-on activities in geology and ecology that include field trips within LaSalle County to experience the actual geological formations or ecological habitats first hand. Two former students that Joe has influenced are Tara Bell and Stephen Brusatte. Tara, a current science educator, remembered the impact the field trips had on her. She was able to reconnect with Joe recently and observed him on a field trip. Tara said, "I appreciate his approach to science because the ability to think through problems in a logical, systemic way is one of the most important lessons we can teach students. Mr. Jakupcak believes one of the most valuable places to learn …lessons is in the field…for authentic learning..." Stephen Brusatte is currently a PhD candidate in Earth and Environmental science at Columbia University and credits Joe with the passion that sparked his interest in geology plus personal mentorship he provided. According to Stephen, "I was a shy kid with a burgeoning passion for dinosaurs and fossil ... I signed up for Mr. Jakupcak’s geology class and ... learned about ... the Pleistocene landforms that dotted the Illinois prairies, but had long gone unnoticed to my eyes." Joe spent personal time taking Stephen to various fossil sites and encouraged him to do a senior research project that became a 100 page thesis which was eventually published. Joe’s outstanding dedication has recently won him the honor of being names Science Teacher of the Month by the OTHS foundation. Joe Jakupcak is a shining example of a seasoned educator that has a special enthusiasm for the Illinois landscape and is teaching students that you don’t have to travel very far to see all the wonders of earth and environment. Thank you for your tireless devotion, Joe. Congrats!!
Lisa Wissert from Jonathan Y. Scammon Elementary School in Chicago, IL has established the goal of fostering a partnership between the school, families, and the community that enhance student learning in the classroom. She builds interactions between these partnerships with interactive homework assignments. One assignment required the students to designs their own experiment in class then run the experiment at home, collect data and analyze it with the involvement of the family. These types of assignments open up communication between teachers, students and families where there might be hesitation due to informal education experiences. Carla Shortino, Science Instructional Coach at the school, emphasized, "Lisa possesses so many extraordinary characteristics as a 6th and 7th grade science teacher. She brings to her classroom a sincere commitment to seeing her students succeed, and has an exceptional ability to help her students construct a solid understanding of scientific concepts and processes by finding creative ways to capture student attention." Lisa has also developed Family Science Night in which her students lead family and community members through experiments they have done in class and share the science behind it. For instance students conducted experiments with attendees that demonstrated how diseases could spread through a population, they presented their findings from an infectious disease research project, and they shared wellness information provided by a local pharmacy. This experiment enabled the students, families and community to see the real world application of science and the importance of understanding it implications it has on everyone. Joanna Doyle, a colleague of Lisa’s at the school, wrote, "She not only demonstrates mastery of pedagogy and content, but constantly goes above and beyond to provide students with rigorous and rich learning opportunities through professional development, grant writing, and the innovative use of technology in the classroom." Lisa obtained 32 iPads through a grant she wrote and now uses them to collect real-time data, developed eBooks and organize student research. Lisa has truly gone above and beyond to help her students; families and community come together for science. Congratulations Lisa!
Michael Novak, 8th grade science teacher at Park View School in Morton Grove, IL has transformed his science classroom through the use of IQWST (Investigating and Questioning Our World Through Science and Technology). Using the inquiry based materials associated with this program, Michael saw such positive impacts on students’ level of engagement and learning that he become a field test site for Northwestern University (NU), Michigan State, University of Michigan (UM), and the University of Illinois and the research collected eventually lead to contributions to the New Science Standards Framework. Michael also found this type of involvement allowed him to self-critique more constructively, share scientific enterprise with his students and pursue National Board certification. Lisa Brody-Fine, a colleague at Park View, reaffirms Michael’s commitment by saying, "(He) took it upon himself to seek out what was then a radically new form of science curriculum for our school. After teaching the pilot (he) made an impassioned case to the teachers and administrators (and) wanted us to move the district’s entire curriculum ... to this more innovative inquiry- based, standards-aligned middle school science curriculum. (It) changed my teaching style to accommodate a much wider range of students’ abilities ... and I ... loved teaching the materials." Michael then realized that he must share these findings with others through numerous professional development workshops, journal articles and presentations. Just recently, he presented at ISTA’s fall conference "Prove It! Writing Evidence-Based Explanations in Science" as well as a township wide workshop to disseminate the New Science Standards Framework. Brian Reiser, professor of learning sciences at Northwestern University, said, "Michael is clearly an inspirational leader in his school. He has enthusiastically pursued opportunities for his teachers to become involved in professional development, research collaborations, and collaborating on developing and field testing innovative science curriculum materials. He has been an advocate for new initiatives in science education at his school, vigorously pursuing opportunities to bring the best ideas and practices to his school." Michael has definitely raised the bar for continuing the effort to make science education a cut above the rest. Congratulations Michael!
Rob Lang, the physic and engineering teacher at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, IL, has numerous accomplishments that range from designing STEM curriculum to mentoring new teachers, piloting technologies and hosting professional development events. As curriculum design leader he has developed student-centered and inquiry-based physics lessons that require students to collaborate to discover the phenomena behind the physics. Paul Z, a student that had taken the physics class said, "Memorization is minimized and conceptual understanding is maximized. Not only will students understand the material more thoroughly with student discovery lab, but they will also enjoy comprehending the overall theme/message of the unit." Rob then shared his overhauling experience with DuPage County to make an "Essential Physics Curriculum" so assessment could be improved as well as professional development. As Rob redesigned the curriculum he was able to incorporate new technologies such as clickers, data collection software, online quizzes and help other teachers pilot or train with these devices. Professional development is another aspect Rob accels at. He mentors new teachers by making sure they are attending professional development activities, giving them feedback on their teaching and daily struggles. When he is not mentoring, he is attending conferences like ISTA, NSTA, and Physic West/ISPP meetings then sharing and training his colleagues from what he has learned. Daniel Pfeifer is one of those individuals that has benefitted from Rob’s mentoring and sharing. Daniel said, "I would not be the educator I am today without the guidance of Rob. (He) knows when to step in to give more guidance and when to let me struggle. He introduced me to other passionate physics teachers ... in professional organizations such as the ... ISPP, Physics Northwest ... I have learned so much from Rob and look forward to working together in the future. Creating a STEM environment in our classrooms is a goal all science teachers strive for." Rob co-designed a project-based engineering course where students learn and use technology skills which include AutoCAD, woodworking, metal working and robotics along with scientific principles to design and build projects. By combining Physics and AutoCAD students the project became cross-curricular and reemphasized the correlation among STEM topics. The interest in this curriculum has spread into evening and summer classes for middle school students further establishing the importance and fun of STEM. If that is not enough, Rob is the sponsor of the Science Olympiad team and the Technical Theater which builds set pieces for plays and musicals. It is clear that Rob is a dedicated teacher and selfless colleague. Congratulations!!
Ronald Fonck, honors biology teacher at Joliet West High School in Joliet, IL, defines his greatest accomplishment was developing and teaching the first ever Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) class. Ronald dedicated two years of preparation to creating and revising the curriculum so that current and future students would have a program that would continue to challenge and benefit them, but also improve the scholastic achievements of the school. The APES class uses a variety of methods to meet the requirements of the College Board: extensive laboratory work with Environmental Science Kits offered by Carolina Biological, several practice test questions taking time to analyze the answers as well as the wording of the questions, and expanding students’ knowledge with outside of class content research. As a result of Ronald’s support and encouragement, the students that took the AP exam, three had perfect scores of 5, while 9 others scored highly giving Joliet an Honor Roll ranking. Ronald’s principal Dr. Teresa Gibson noted, "Only 376 schools in the US made that Honor Roll; truly a proud accomplishment for (the) district." John Meyers, a student teacher of Ronald’s, remembered that no matter what class he was teaching he always set high academic standards and supported every student with positive feedback and relentless energy. "As a colleague…he freely shares his educational philosophies and listens to the opinions of others, while always displaying his high degree of professionalism. Karla H. Guseman, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, said, "I meet regularly with Mr. Fronck ... (and)I have...further witnessed (his) collaborative spirit and desire for…the entire district to meet the needs of our students," Ronald is the kind of science teacher that every teacher should aspire to be. Congratulations Ronald and continue your outstanding job!
Sindy Main, a seventh grade life science teacher at Carl Sandburg Middle School in Freeport, IL has made extraordinary accomplishments both inside and outside of the classroom which include participating in science research, improving our science curriculum, and investigating instructional methods. One of Sindy’s fascinating adventures was being selected to go to the Antarctica and collaborate with researchers from four different countries. She spent a month at Lake Untersee near a Russian Base and upon her return she created a curriculum that simulated the expedition including tents set ups in the snow and data collection. Then her students taught elementary students about the rocks, birds, and bacteria that were currently being studied in Antarctica area. Sindy had another arctic adventure to share with her students. After receiving a fellowship to participate in the Earthwatch expedition "Climate Change at the Edge of the Arctic, she was off to Canada and blogged to her students about the research on tundra tree line movements northward. Through both of these endeavors she has helped her students participate in real scientific research and expand their knowledge about global warming. Recently, Sindy has applied for the NOAA Teacher at Sea program continuing with her adventurous spirit and dedication to bring the world to her students. Janice Hawkins, associate principal at Carl Sandburg, proudly described Sindy’s fundraising/education project that helped her supply budget. "(Sindy) introduced Lights for Learning, a program to increase the awareness of global warming and add funds to our schools’ science budget. Over the past three years the science teachers and students at both Freeport middle schools have raised over eight thousand dollars (by) selling ... CFL’s (and) her students (have) learn(ed) the importance of reducing carbon emissions. Money earned is spent on science supplies, new science clubs, and community projects." Stacey Kleindl, Principal of Carl Sandburg, further praises Sindy’s work by saying, "She works tirelessly to improve and promote science education in Freeport as the Instructional Leader for Science at the Middle Level." It takes a really strong educator to go the extra mile for science education and Sindy is truly the essence of one. Congrats on an exciting job well done.
ISTA New Teacher of the Year Award
Leilani Dominguez, a biology and physics teacher at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, IL, realizes that teaching requires continuous improvement and ongoing learning on her part. She stays ahead of the changes that occur at the state and federal level by attending workshops and classes that define the benefits of such changes in student learning. Since students needs vary, Leilani has designed instructional patters to address these different needs by "varying the nature of assignments, using multiple approaches to content, and using a blend of whole class, group, and individualized instruction." She has also implemented an innovative and creative curriculum that still provides rigorous performance standards as well as new ideas and strategies to better facilitate a safe and productive learning opportunity for her students. Her method of instruction includes lecture, real-life application, demonstrations, group exercises and student presentations so each students learning style can be addressed. Leilani wants her students to go beyond learning in the classroom so she became a part of Science Olympiad. She said, "As a sponsor of the Science Olympiad team, I encourage my students to further explore their curiosity and passion for science by joining our afterschool academic team." In addition, Leilani encourages student to pursue independent projects that motivate them and help them become life-long learners. Leilani takes her job as a role model serious. She wants to leave her students with the tool to be productive, responsible leaders that will benefit both the students as well as the community. Thank you Leilani for your caring and dedicated spirit. Congratulations!!
Michelle Wrona, a third year biology/physical science teacher at Lyons Township High School in Western Springs, IL is multifaceted. She not only has passion for her students but shows dedication to the science field by holding state endorsements in biology, chemistry and physics. Michelle began her science career working as a research specialist in the Department of Surgery Burn & Shock Trauma Institute at Loyola University Medical Center where she trained others in clinical lab practices. This type of real world experience has helped Michelle design more meaningful hands on experiments for her class as well as stories for the purpose of these application techniques. According to Jason Crean, a colleague at Lyons, "Michelle’s teaching style is simple: make it interesting and the students will want to know more." Last year she helped develop a new curriculum to engage low level readers in biology and English as a Tier II RTI. The Biology English Cross Curricular Integration (B.E.C.C.I) course allowed Michelle to be creative by including a unit project that melds the skills of both biology and English. This curriculum challenged Michelle to help students improve reading scores, scientific literacy and steer them to becoming lifelong learners. She also worked on the committee to develop a college prep physical science course that emphasized chemistry with real world applications. Outside of the classroom, Michelle continues her own lifelong learning by taking classes through the Chicago Zoological Society, Chicago Botanic Gardens, and traveling to Belize to work on environmental conservationism. With such vast exposures, she is then able to compile all of that enrichment and bring it back to her classroom for her students to experience. Beyond her teaching skills, Michelle has an amazing ability to further connect to her students by volunteering at local fundraisers or just attending student plays or sporting events. It is easy to see why Michelle deserves the new teacher award. Congratulations Michelle! We are anxious to see what is next from you.
Peter Dong, a fourth year physics teacher at Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL has impressed his colleagues with his quality and thoroughness of the feedback he gives his students on their written assessments. During his first years, he used the standard curriculum to carefully evaluate the work, making comments to enable students to improve their research and communication skills. But recently he had taken it upon himself to revamp the Scientific Inquiries Physics class by putting all the assessment questions into Exam View, coding them by topic and difficulty level, so that the teachers can make multiple versions of unit assessments. He has also written additional integrative assessment problems to challenge students’ critical thinking skills. Peter also helped setup and organize the Methods of Scientific Inquiry course by frequently volunteering information during meetings to assist instructors who are teaching the course for the first time. According to Susan C. Styer, an IMSA colleague, "Peter has great rapport with the students. Every year, he shows the musical that he wrote named Les Phys (a parody on Les Miserables) at an evening session...(He) also finds time to sit (in) on (other) classes...(so)that he is able to use pedagogical ideas from (those) classes in his own...". Outside of the classroom, Peter dedicates time to helping students prepare for debate team, is a representative on the IMSA strategic plan committee and gives seminar presentations on academic ethics. As a new teacher Peter has definitely showed how important it is to be not only a caring teacher but a part of the school community. Congratulations Peter!
Rob Wallon, high school earth and anatomy and physiology science teacher at Morris Community High School in Morris, IL, has realized early in his career the importance of not waiting for things to happen for you, but to make them happen. In these three years, he was a fellow for the NSTA New Science Teacher Academy, participated in an elite conference of digital microscope technologies, became advisor for the Science Club and coached the Environthon team to a state qualification. In addition to all of that, Rob has been attending professional development programs in CRISS strategies, iPad technology uses and continues to be a life-time learner by taking graduate courses. According to Kelly Hussey, principal at MCHS, has nothing but praise for this new teacher. He said, "(Rob) has contributed both as a member of our Science teaching faculty, and as an assistant coach... I will not only claim his as the single best non-tenured teacher I have worked with in my thirty-three year teaching career, but also that he has been a positive influence on both our faculty and our student body..." Rob is considered a challenging teacher, but he has won over his students by raising the bar and pushing them to meet the challenge. He "show(s) poise and professionalism, mature positive character(stics) and a (strong) work ethic" which all of his students benefit from because it shows them what a productive individual is. It is clear that Rob has a promising career in science education. Congratulations on your early success and we look forward to see and hearing more about your enthusiasm for science.