Robert E. Yager Exemplary Teaching Award—2018 winners

The Robert E. Yager Exemplary Teaching Award recognizes six full-time K–12 teachers of science who successfully use innovation and excellence in their classroom.

District II

None awarded

District IV

James Brown
Science Teacher
Sand Creek Middle School
Albany, NY

James Brown believes when students are taught in an interdisciplinary manner through a lens of how and why, science suddenly comes to life. Instilling in students that science is key to understanding the world around us provides the student with a framework for their learning. Kelly Grindstaff, Project Manager, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, says, “In my over two decades in education as a teacher, teacher educator, and professional development professional, I can think of no one more deserving than Jim for an award recognizing Exemplary Teaching. … [H]is leadership in growing STEM education has been unparalleled in my experience.” Brown makes learning real for students by integrating curriculum through daily activities and by showing students that science is all around. Rather than giving answers, he gets them excited about finding their own. Brown’s lessons often incorporate specific skills, which give students tools to be successful, and contests, which motivate kids beyond a grade and provide an authentic audience. Joseph A. Farron, Jr., Environmental Engineer, states, “Mr. Brown is a tremendous educator who uniquely fosters an understanding of science to help his students become involved in the world they live in. Our organization has been impressed by programs he has helped establish, and our only real question about Mr. Brown and his educational initiatives is, what will he do next?”

View James Brown’s PowerPoint presentation

District VIII

Brian McDowell
Science Teacher
Mason County Schools
Maysville, KY

Brian McDowell uses authentic experiences to cultivate middle school students’ problem-solving, self-directed, and collaboration skills. McDowell created “A Place for Inquiry” nature trail just outside the school, installing a dinosaur trackway where students are asked to collect evidence and create a claim of what occurred based on the evidence. Simple questions such as “How many dinosaurs were here or were the dinosaurs running or walking?” are used to initiate dynamic discussions and debate. Brown has also created a bone assemblage, stratigraphy column, bird blind, rock cycle model, and flagpole shadow study for students to use their scientific practices. David E. Russell, Department of Zoology, Miami University, says, “There are so few opportunities for our students to actually conduct research, understand the nature of science, and feel as if they are part of this dynamic world, that the bird blind project is fantastic for the long-term (and short-term) development of our next generation of scientists and environmentally informed voting public.”

View Brian McDowell’s PowerPoint presentation

District X

Kristen Poindexter
Science Teacher
Spring Mill Elementary School
Indianapolis, IN

Kristen Poindexter strives every day to help her students become excited about the world around them, constantly checking in with them during labs and experiments to make sure they are highly engaged and are making connections to themselves and the world around them. She creates an environment where asking questions and taking chances is encouraged and expected. Poindexter also sets up making-meaning conferences where students can share their experiences, data, claims, and evidence. Students learn to listen to each other and help validate their peers’ thinking with supportive evidence of their own. Through this process, her students see their peers as more than classmates, becoming a tightly bonded classroom where everyone supports one another. Poindexter often receives compliments from other teachers in the school: They are able to pick out her current and former students because of the way they craft their questions and go about finding answers to their questions and wonderings. Allyson Smith, Director of Curriculum, MSD of Washington Township, says, “One of the many characteristics I admire about Ms. Poindexter is her reflective nature. She is constantly reflecting on her practices and refining her craft. She exemplifies the term lifelong learner. Her love for science is contagious and all of her students and colleagues are excited to learn from her and with her.”

View Kristin Poindexter’s PowerPoint presentation

District XIV

Deepa Iyer
Science Teacher
Knox Gifted Academy
Chandler, AZ

Deepa Iyer encourages students to think deeply about the material, learn through experimentation, engage with the design thinking process, and collaborate. She sees her role as helping students collaboratively build models of concepts through experimentation and analysis. In Iyer’s classroom, students sit in groups of three and engage in various discussions related to the content, tasked with discussing something unique. Beyond pure scientific experimentation, Iyer also encourages students to use the design thinking and engineering process as way to interact with content and make learning relevant, engineering solutions to problems like scarcity of potable water, smart watering systems to prevent wastage of water, or developing solar panels that mimic the movement of sunflowers to maximize the production of renewable solar energy. She uses these learning experiences to create a community learning experience. She uses students’ varying levels of skills to the class’s advantage by creating a system of peer support: a message board made from sticky notes where students can ask and receive help on their projects. Through this, students learn the art of collaboration and enhance their learning through teaching. Lynn Weed, Principal, Knox Gifted Academy, says, “Deepa possesses the characteristics, expertise, and work ethic of a highly effective teacher. I would personally choose to take [her] into the trenches with me on any endeavor! Her practices and procedures are beyond reproach.”

View Deepa Iyer’s PowerPoint presentation

District XVI

Jose Rivas
Science Teacher
Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy
Inglewood, CA

While working as an engineer, Jose Rivas mentored students at Lennox Middle School. The students were engaged and excited, so Rivas wanted to bring resources and opportunities to students. Rivas won a seat on the Lennox Board of Education and created a high school that focused on science and engineering. Rivas left the engineering world, began his journey as an educator, and expanded Lennox Math, Science and Technology Academy’s engineering program into an engineering career pathway program. Rivas challenges students’ misconceptions with thought-provoking activities that encourage curiosity and dialogue. He inspires students to reach beyond what they think they are capable of. Rivas has supported teachers at all levels: at Lennox Academy as STEAM department chair and instructional coach, through his collaboration with Loyola Marymount University, and Teach for America, among other positions. At the state level he served on the Committee on Accreditation and at the national level with the National Academies of Science Teacher Advisory Council. Timothy J. Allen, Executive Director, Carlston Family Foundation, says, “Throughout his career … Mr. Rivas has consistently demonstrated a professional demeanor, an inquisitive and curious mind, a joy for ongoing learning, the skill to be a highly motivational and life changing science teacher, as well as an exceptional leader and trainer of colleagues and prospective teachers. There is not a more qualified or exemplary science teacher. Mr. Rivas is the premier example of a teacher who exemplifies ‘excellence and innovation’ in the promotion and teaching of science.”

View Jose Rivas’s PowerPoint presentation

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