How Did an Ordinary Science Teacher Win an Award?

Dear NSTA Colleagues,

As a proud 18-year veteran of a Kindergarten classroom, applying for one of the NSTA awards in 2014 became “LIFE CHANGING.”  I am excited to share my story as an NSTA member whose passion for teaching Kindergarteners and science sent me on a journey of reflection and professional growth.

In 2014, I was selected as the recipient of the NSTA Shell Science Teaching Award. I still get goose bumps typing those words, even to this day.  I am still so humbled to have been chosen because I do not see myself as an outstanding educator.  I do what is best and right for the children in my classroom. My kindergarten students’ favorite part of our day is when I announce that it’s time for science!

How Did an Ordinary Science Teacher Win an Award?

I decided to apply for the Shell Science Teaching Award after I saw a link for it posted on one of our state list-serve e-mails.  I was hoping to become one of the finalists so I could attend NSTA’s national conference and learn some ideas to take back to my classroom.  Walking through the application process was one of the most reflective experiences I’ve ever had.  I examined my teaching from many different viewpoints and from the lens of many colleagues, friends, and parents of former students. One thing that is unique to the Shell Award is that when you are announced as one of the three finalists, a team from the Shell Award Selection committee comes to visit your classroom.  I worried about that day for a week or so and on the morning of the visit, I woke up and felt peace.  I literally walked through that day in what felt like a dream! I organized several groups of colleagues, parents, and administrators to speak with the Shell Award team members about me as a teacher and what happens in my classroom.  I cannot even put into words what it is like to hear all those people who watch what you do everyday speak about you.  I was completely overwhelmed at all the kind, beautiful, wonderful things they said about me! After the visit was over, I went home that evening and just sobbed; it was one of the MOST powerful experiences I have walked through as a professional.  It was LITERALLY life changing.

I never thought that I would be selected as the national recipient! I was brought to tears at school convocation when my Superintendent announced that I was the recipient of the Shell Science Teaching Award. 

After receiving the NSTA award, many new opportunities opened up to me—and still continue to arise. One highlight was being invited to be the keynote speaker at several different conferences to share my experiences as a science educator.  I was also asked to be a trainer for our state science kit initiative and to lead many professional development sessions in my own district as well as within my own state.  I was asked by our Department of Education to help write the K–2 science standards that children and teachers all over Indiana would be using. 

Through the years, I get to speak to principals and teachers from both the US and China about the importance of Science in the early childhood classroom and guide them through hands-on experiences that they can take back to their schools and introduce to their children. As a means to be more involved with NSTA, I’ve applied for NSTA positions: District Director and a Shell Awards team member. Currently, I’m the Elementary Director for our state Science association and have just submitted my application to run for Vice-President. Beyond the classroom, three museums in Indiana have invited me to sit on their executive boards and thereby influence the patrons who attend events and activities there. I have also served as a member of the Shell Science Teaching Awards team and have reviewed each application over the last 3 years from some incredible educators!

My professional network expanded along with the opportunities I shared above.  I thoroughly enjoy participating in chats on Twitter and help to host a chat for teachers on the first Tuesday of each month (#TeacherFriends) in which we discuss topics relevant to education. I also join in the #NSTAchat as often as I can and learn all about topics that are related to science education from some incredible educators. I communicate regularly with friends I have made through NSTA and have been invited to provide feedback on several of their books before they were published. 

Through all of these experiences, I was encouraged by colleagues and friends to apply for other NSTA awards and I was excited to receive the Robert E. Yager Excellence in Science Teaching Award earlier this year at the NSTA National Conference in Atlanta.

So, if you have ever thought about applying for an NSTA award, now is the time! I have grown so much as a professional educator because of the application process, and I can assure you that you will too. When you add in all of the opportunities that have been presented to me, I can truly say that receiving an NSTA award is LIFE CHANGING!

Maybe an NSTA award isn’t in your immediate future, but you may still want to learn more about NSTA awards (and consider telling your teacher friends about them).  Applying for an NSTA award is not as intimidating as it may seem!  There is a friendly Awards staff ready to help answer any of your questions along with the countless recipients of past NSTA awards. You will learn about opportunities that allow you to grow as a professional and ways that you can become involved with NSTA in other ways.  I would also encourage you to apply for being a member of one of the awards selection committees for an NSTA award.  This is a great way to learn more about the criteria for each award and what the committee looks for in the application process.

Kristen Poindexter
Kindergarten Teacher

Indianapolis, Indiana

Twitter handle: @fuzzlady77


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1 Response to How Did an Ordinary Science Teacher Win an Award?

  1. Mattie Barr says:


    I first want to start off by saying thank you. I am in my third year at Wartburg College, getting my bachelors in Elementary Education with an endorsement in reading. My hope is to teach kindergarten within the next couple of years. Your story truly inspired me. Sometimes when life gets busy and I am trying to accomplish thing one, two, and three on my list, I lose track of what is truly important and fulfilling in being a teacher. I was enlightened as I read your story though. My purpose and passion is to teach the little ones, who are very wiggling and active, but also extremely curious. As I prepare to teach them, they in return are also teaching me. Kindergarteners are life changing. Kindergarteners are the ones who make us extraordinary teachers. When I get caught up trying to check items off my list, I will remember to stop and think of my purpose and my kindergarteners. Someday when I announce that it is time for science, I hope I get the same response from my students that you get every day.

    I attended my first NSTA National Conference this past spring in St. Louis, MO. It was such a humbling experience to be around thousands of teachers, all focused on learning to better their students. I hope to keep getting invested as time goes on because of the amount I learned and grew from going. I will definitely have to look into applying for the NSTA Shell Science Teaching Award one day. It is so neat that a team from the Shell Award Selection Committee comes and visits your class. Your students had to be rather excited. How did you prepare for the Shell Award Team’s arrival? You talked about how worried you were weeks before they came but on the morning of, you woke up completely in peace. Out of curiosity, what was your main worry?

    In saying of all of this, what is your biggest pulling point from this experience based on your teaching? Thank you for reaching me in a time where I have been checking items off my list, instead of focusing on the true purpose. Thank you for telling your story and inspiring other teachers and pre-service teachers to be an ordinary teacher who lets his/her students make them an extraordinary teacher.

    With much appreciation,


    Mattie Barr ‘21
    Wartburg College
    Elementary Education
    Reading Endorsement
    Education Office Assistant
    100 Wartburg Blvd | Waverly, IA 50677 |

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