Robert E. Yager Excellence in Teaching Awards — 2017 winners

This award recognizes excellence and innovation in the field of science education. This award acknowledges teachers who share Robert Yager’s passion for education and continued professional development. This award also honors Robert Yager’s effort to make excellent science education accessible to students of the 21st century and beyond. Awardees will have exhibited excellence and innovation in the field of science education, and embody the mission statement of NSTA. Six awardees will be selected annually.

The individual awardees will receive a $1,000 award, up to $1,000 for travel expenses to attend the NSTA National Congress on Science Education, and a plaque. They will be asked to present at the NSTA National Congress on Science Education, with their presentation videotaped for future use. The awards will be presented during the NSTA National Congress on Science Education, held each summer. An identified Yager Scholar from the six awardees will be given additional support up to $1,500, to present at a future NSTA National Conference on Science Education.

Yager Scholar and District XII – Kristin Rademaker
Science Teacher
Harlem High School
Machesney Park, IL

Teaching through phenomena allows to engage her students and get them figuring out the science behind what happened, sparking natural curiosity to figure things out. Once the phenomena is introduced she uses the science practices and other strategies that allow students to dig into what they know, figure out what they don’t know, and fix the things they thought they knew. Rademaker focuses on students learning science through working together, solving problems, making mistakes, embracing them, and trying again. Teaching through phenomena also allows her to implement a number of different teaching methods depending on the task at hand. Using strategies that get the students active and engaged have been instrumental in changing the culture of her classroom. Engaging students through productive talk turns her classroom into a student-driven learning environment. Along with using productive talk, she also uses gallery walks, small- and whole-group discussion, close reading, driving question boards, and claim evidence reasoning along with many others. These methods coupled with the science and engineering practices not only provide students with opportunities for engagement but also allow them to develop valuable skills they can use across all academic areas and beyond. “I have come to see Mrs. Rademaker as a transformative leader in science education that I wished every science teacher in our country could meet someday and learn from,” says Michael Novak, Instructor, Northwestern University.

District I –Steven Autieri
Science Teacher
Suffield Public Schools
Suffield, CT

Steven Autieri has been involved in developing and instructing courses centered on the theme of blended instruction, which is a computer-mediated instructional strategy that permits students to complete essential tasks at their own pace. Autieri has also served as a contributing member of a school blended learning implementation team, which provided professional support to building staff and has coordinated learning walks to highlight implementation of technology in the classroom.He inspires fellow colleagues to adopt these strategies in their own classrooms by sharing with them developed resources, lessons, and assessment strategies that will help them to be successful in driving student learning. Autieri has been deeply involved in the professional development of and discourse with other educators in his own district, as well as with teachers across the state through a workshop conducted on blended instruction delivered at the 2013 annual meeting of the Connecticut Computer Educator’s Association (CECA). According to Maria Pompano, Science Instructional Leader, East Haven High School, “Steve’s enthusiasm, innovativeness, and genuine concern for the students at our school were exemplary. He was a teacher leader, a role model, and an asset in the building as well as in the greater community of science teachers in Connecticut.”

District VI – Covey Denton
Science Teacher
Greenfield School
Wilson, NC

Covey Denton’s students begin a science unit with immediate engagement and a fun activity. While always ensuring that the true science behind the fun is learned, Denton uses multiple modalities to reach her students. She uses hand motions and moving bodies to explore. She raps, sings songs, and claps rhythms to help those who are auditory learners. Denton encourages students by proposing STEM design challenges, letting students develop and test their own lab ideas, and offering a student choice project to her fifth and sixth graders for every unit. Denton’s homework assignments include creating a story about the rock cycle, told from a rock’s point of view or having students write their own comic book adventure about science topics. Her love for science is infectious and quickly spreads from her to her students. “Ms. Denton has brought so much energy and enthusiasm to her lower and middle school science classes. She has a terrific knowledge of the sciences taught in our school and continually works to make it interesting, fun, and educational. Students are not just learning science, they are DOING science. They are all over campus taking and testing soil samples, examining the water in our pond on campus while learning about water pollution and the effects of runoff from our soccer field, or examining our small ecosystem along our nature trail,” says Beth Peters, Head of School, Greenfield School.


District VII – Kristen Sumrall
Science Teacher
Lafayette Middle School
Lafayette, MS

Kristen Sumrall has three questions she asks when preparing for a new year of science instruction. “How can I motivate my students to want to learn science? How can I convince my students to like/enjoy the world of science? And, how can I convince ALL my students that they can be successful at doing science?” She uses these three goals and questions as the driving force in how she develops curriculum as well as how she teaches science. Three of her favorite science teaching methods are open inquiry, problem based learning, and use of the 5E model, which have been effective in helping her motivate and convince her students that they can be successful at doing science. She uses the NGSS and state standards as the driving forces in the development of lessons and in her instruction. She believes that the purpose/relevancy of science to the world as identified in the NGSS is an important aspect of why and how we teach science. “Kristen is grounded in research-based practices. She has breadth and depth of scientific and educational research knowledge beyond her professional years of experience. She is an innovative science educator and a remarkable leader. She models professionalism and excellence in everything she does but especially in how she motivates others and brings forth the best in everyone,” says John Ammons Professor, Mississippi Delta Community College.


District XIII – George Hademenos
Physics Teacher
Richardson High School
Richardson, TX

To ensure that his lessons are presented from the student perspective, George Hademenos designs each lesson so his students do not hear and write about the discussed concepts or topics but that they see and experience them. Hademenos has been known to wear high-heeled shoes to illustrate the concept of pressure, use a bowling ball pendulum to illustrate the concept of friction, launch a pill bottle rocket using a PVC pipe launching pad and a bicycle pump, and launch high-altitude weather balloons to see and understand science 100,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Students could describe characteristics of his teaching style by saying words like animated, expressive, emotive, and loud. Violetta Espinoza, former student, states that Hademenos “is capable of giving lessons that are understandable, with some humor on the side to keep people engaged. Most of all, however, he does an amazing job at helping students reach their academic goals.” Hademenos loves to show his students how excited he is about physics because chances are good that if he’s excited about something, the students will also be excited about it. “Dr. Hademenos is a teacher that is not content with the daily responsibilities of lecture, labs, and tests. He is always looking for opportunities to bring practical examples of his subject into the classroom,” says Charles Bruner, Principal, Richardson High School.

District XVIII – Ruggero Racca
Science Teacher
Toronto District School Board
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Ruggero Racca’s work as a teacher situates itself at the convergence of three pedagogical stances: interdisciplinary learning, transformative learning, and inquiry-based learning. Interdisciplinary learning provides his students with authentic experiences in more than one content area, offering them a range of learning experiences, and giving them choices in the projects they pursue and the ways they demonstrate their learning. His students engage in journal writing, metaphors, life history exploration, learning contracts, group projects, role play, case studies, and using literature to stimulate critical consciousness as pathways to transformative learning. Students use open-ended investigations into a question or a problem, engaging in evidence-based reasoning, problem finding and problem solving. In this rich context, and through the use of gradual release of responsibility, students in his class acquire transferable, lasting inquiry skills and the ability to apply them across the curriculum in examining and challenging their own expanding knowledge. “The inquiry model Ruggero perfected in his classroom has been the focus of observation and broader implementation by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), as well as by the Ontario Ministry of Education. In his teaching, Ruggero nurtures not only highly effective science learning, but also a deepening of the students’ empathy towards, and connection with, the world around them,” says Catherine Munro, Vice Principal, Cosburn Middle School.

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