White House honors America's best

May 02, 2006

Washington, DC--Learning physics from the football announcer? That is just one way that Luther Davis III, a physics teacher, educates not only his students, but the parents and community members of Lake Mary, Florida. During football season Davis brings 'Football Physics' to the stands. 'Football Physics' enlightens the crowd on topics such as projectile motion, conservation of momentum, the soundwaves of band instruments, and the affects of gravity on cheerleading.

This week, President Bush is recognizing Davis for his outstanding work, both inside and outside the classroom. Davis is one of 100 middle and high school teachers being honored with the 2005 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the nation's highest honor for teaching in these fields.

In a letter to the Awardees, President Bush said, "Education is the future of our country and the gateway to a hopeful tomorrow. To keep America competitive, we must encourage our next generation of leaders to study math and science. Teaching is a great calling, and by helping young people learn about these important fields, you provide your students with the confidence and skills they need to succeed in the jobs of the 21st century."

"Math and science are critical components of America's technological and competitive strength. Through my American Competitiveness Initiative, my Administration is working to advance American innovation and support the efforts of teachers by increasing investments in research and development, promoting education in math and science, and encouraging entrepreneurship and technological advances," he added.

Awardees will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the independent federal agency that administers the awards program. Awardees are also in Washington, DC this week for an all-expense paid trip, professional development sessions, a week of celebratory events, and the official awards ceremony on May 4th.

"Excellent teachers help students learn challenging mathematics and science content every day, and the Presidential Awards give us, as a nation, a way to show how much we value and appreciate their contributions," said Celeste Pea, Ph.D., Program Director of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education programs at the National Science Foundation. "We hope their example will stimulate the creativity of other teachers and help attract new recruits to the mathematics and science teaching profession."

In a citation presented to all Awardees, President Bush commends them "for embodying excellence in teaching, for devotion to the learning needs of students, and for upholding the high standards that exemplify American education at its finest."

California Awardee, Mary Cagle exemplifies that devotion to students' learning by the approach she takes in teaching mathematics. "I instruct my students to do all their note-taking in ink, which is often forbidden in math classrooms. The purpose is for them to create a permanent record of their thought process. If you make a mistake in pencil, the instinct is to erase it," Cagle explains. "But when my students make a mistake, they take a different color and annotate their mistake, including an explanation of why it's wrong, how they know, and what they should have done instead. We examine and celebrate mistakes as part of the learning process."

Lawrence Neznanski, a science teacher in Idaho, practices a similar ideology. "Taking risks and making mistakes are essential parts of both the processes of science and of learning. One of my favorite quotes of unknown origin is, 'If you can't make mistakes, you can't make anything."

"These highly qualified teachers are focusing more on students and how they learn instead of lecturing from a blackboard and getting students to memorize facts," said Pea. "They understand that students learn complex concepts when they are made real for them and when they can see how mathematics and science are present in their everyday world."

North Dakota Awardee, Susan Forster does just that. In her Enriched Precalculus class, the students form engineering firms. Each "firm" must design a large three-dimensional structure or system, and then present their design to the class. Foster notes, "Their projects must include a diagram, scale model, supporting calculations, and written description. The firm that earns the highest score is 'awarded the contract' for the project and earns extra credit points. Past groups of students have spent a great deal of time and energy working on these projects and have indicated that the application of the concepts learned in the unit helped the students to make sense of the material and understand it more deeply."

Established by Congress in 1983, the annual Presidential Awards program identifies highly qualified mathematics and science teachers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Territories, and the U.S. Department of Defense Schools. This year's recipients--recommended by a panel of leading mathematicians, scientists, and educators are 7th-12th grade teachers.

The week-long celebration in Washington, DC also includes conversations with leaders in education policy, professional development activities, and opportunities to meet dignitaries from the executive and legislative branches.

"One of the most important rewards the teachers will receive is the ability to network with each other about how to make mathematics and science relevant to their students," said Pea.

Awardees will also be given various learning tools to take back and use in their classrooms. The tools, donated by corporations and government agencies, will help Awardees to further enhance their already celebrated classrooms. Gifts include: 3D computer-aided design software from SolidWorks; one-year subscriptions to WeatherBug Achieve, the online teaching tool that uses live weather data to engage students in learning; interactive classroom products from InterWrite School Suite; one-year subscriptions for online class software, Blackboard Coursesites, from Blackboard Inc.; curriculum from The JASON Project; graphing calculators and activity guides from Texas Instruments, Inc.; software from Wolfram Research; lesson guides and DVDs from Glencoe/McGraw-Hill; software from Atari, Inc.; projectors from 3M; and classroom modules from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
The National Science Foundation is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly. For more information, visit www.paemst.org. Media Note: Awards Week in Washington, DC: May 2-5.

To arrange interviews and receive digital photographs from Awards Week, call contact.

National Science Foundation

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