Sylvia Shugrue Award winners 2007–2012

The Sylvia Shugrue Award for Elementary school teachers honors one elementary school teacher who creates and makes use of interdisciplinary, inquiry-based lesson plans. To qualify, teachers submit a lesson plan with fully referenced sources of information and any relevant National Science Education Standards and benchmarks found in The Atlas of Science Literacy. Since the award’s debut in 2007, NSTA has recognized six teachers (we made two awards the first year… the submissions were THAT good). We haven’t posted the lesson plans, however, so this post is an effort to rectify that shortcoming. Please click through and have a look at the winning entries, and let us know what you think in the comments area below.

2007 Winners

Jennifer Sinsel
Fifth-Grade Science Teacher
Wichita Collegiate School
Wichita, Kansas

In Sinsel’s Smart Consumers unit, students investigate the quality of household products through hands-on activities and inquiry projects that allow them to apply the concepts and skills about which they are learning. Sinsel then works with her colleagues to create interdisciplinary connections that fulfill standards in other subjects. Her students write a Consumer Reports-style article in language arts class, for example, and create spreadsheets in math class. Her principal writes, “Jennifer does all the extra projects and discovery activities that students crave…As soon as she gets one project perfected, it becomes part of the curriculum, and she immediately begins to create the next unit.”

Have a look at Sinsel’s winning lesson plan, which looks at examples of the marketing messages kids see when they watch television, and how teachers can use the tube to spark scientific inquiry in the classroom.


Peggy Carlisle
Open Doors Teacher
Pecan Park Elementary School
Jackson, Mississippi

In her Open Doors program, Carlisle brings science to life for her inner-city students through hands-on, inquiry-based activities and with funding from the many grants she has received. She uses her classroom as a haven for many fascinating creatures housed in aquariums and terrariums; students are able to observe snails, chameleons, and other wonders of nature that also motivate them to read and write about the science they are learning. Interwoven in their studies have been poems to recite and create, figurines to mold, books to publish, and amazing facts and trivia to impress parents with. “There is not a child who leaves her classroom without a love of science,” says a colleague. “It is no surprise that some of her fourth-grade students’ writing scores are among the highest in the district.”

Carlisle’s winning lesson plan looks at the structures of aquatic creatures.



Jennifer Thompson
K-1 Science Teacher
Gastineau Elementary School
Juneau, Alaska

Thompson created Ramps and Marbles: An Inquiry Into the Physics of Motion for Young Children, an interdisciplinary unit that introduces science process skills to young students. Students construct ramps on which they roll marbles; they make predictions, discussion them with other students, write about and draw pictures of their observations, and count marble rolls. This unit succeeds in exciting students about learning physical science because Thompson “puts the best into practice in her classroom,” observes her principal.

Thompson’s winning lesson explores the physics of motion with an inquiry activity using ramps and marbles. It includes examples of student work.



Richard Tabor
Amerman Elementary School
Northville, Michigan

Tabor encourages young scientists to apply process skills to learn through discovery and experimentation. He designed a Solar Sprint activity to challenge them to consider multiple variables, integrate math, and develop technological applications. He has presented workshops to colleagues at his school and to teachers from several educational organizations and shared his ideas through state and national publications.

In Tabor’s winning lesson, students design and build their own solar powered LEGO cars, the goal being to design the most efficient car.




Cathy Kindem
Cedar Park STEM Elementary School
Apple Valley, Minnesota

Kindem’s leadership has not only inspired the students to be engaged in science learning, but the work classroom teachers do with science has been transformed.  Her work has provided the staff with the content, teaching strategies and most importantly the willingness to be innovative.  Kindem has convinced classroom teachers that it is beneficial to go beyond the “boxed” curriculum and to move students’ understanding to important science concepts. She is leading the way for successful implementation of the new standards for not only her school, but for the district and the state.

Here is Kindem’s winning lesson, which examines the types of plants living in the gardens and how they are alike and differ.



Melissa Collins
John P. Freeman Optional School
Elementary teacher

A Presidential Awardee and National Board-certified teacher, Collins has served on or spearheaded committees to engage parents and community members, so they can learn from and assist with experiments, evaluate students’ work, and share their expertise. She helped develop a “night out with science and math” and hosted a health fair at her school. She also created a Physics Carnival that has helped many disadvantaged students understand the physics of carnival rides.

She provides her students with field experiences; for example, when learning about sound, she arranged for her students to interview a musician. She encourages her students to think of themselves as scientists and ensures that they understand safety regulations.

Her principal says she “motivates K-8 students to participate in science fairs, plant gardens, and take nature walks to observe living and nonliving things. She takes the initiative to ensure students’ success.”

Have a look at Collins’ winning lesson and some examples of student work. In the course of the lesson, students are expected to create an instrument that produces a sound. The instruments will be: a tambourine, sand blocks, maracas, a drum, and a guitar. To motivate students, they can bring items from home.



Sergio de Alba
RM Miano Elementary School
Los Banos, California
Elementary teacher

De Alba has received many awards, including the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence and the Entomological Society of America Foundation President’s Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Primary Education. His love for science has inspired him to create schoolwide programs that help students succeed in school and in life. For example, his inquiry-based Arachnid Mania research program has enabled thousands of students to learn the science behind arachnids. His Outdoor Science Lab Gardens provide students of all grade levels with hands-on lessons on plant science, history, math, and language arts. And his “Doctor Is In” club affords the school’s top science students a vision of a future in medicine.

“His extraordinary drive and dedication to the success of the youth of Los Banos is unparalleled,” declares his principal. By the end of his first year at his school, “he was able to raise the $35,000 required to create the first of his 12 outdoor science labs and had singlehandedly developed a research program that inspired 15 teachers to adopt…Though our district does not have the budget to pay him for his extra efforts, he has maintained and continues his programs because he believes in what he is doing. Throughout the years, he has found great success with getting local businesses to help his causes. He has won many grants that have helped to create the infrastructure of his programs, and when other funds are needed, he pays for many things out of his own pocket.”

Give de Alba’s lesson a try. It also includes some samples of student work, through which students show a basic foundation of how plants change (adapt) to increase their chances of survival and continued success.

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1 Response to Sylvia Shugrue Award winners 2007–2012

  1. Elle Faith says:

    Thank you for creating such amazing lesson plans. You are helping so much to provide the enrichment our science community needs. You are not only role models to students but to future teachers as well!

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