February 2014

 

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Zebra Staff Note:
The Teacher Feature highlights the positive impact or innovative work of a South Dakota teacher each month. If you have a suggestion for a Teacher Feature, contact Ruth Raveling at (605) 773-2593 or Ruth.Raveling@state.sd.us.

In December 2013, Ann Anderson received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She is one of two South Dakota recipients. (The other, Erin Marsh of Pierre, was featured in the January issue of the Online Zebra.) Anderson has 15 years of teaching experience and currently teaches five sections of 5th grade science at Belle Fourche Middle School.

“It’s the perfect job for me,” Anderson says of her current position. “I love this age group. You put a topic out there and they just jump in. They want to get their hands dirty.”

Anderson is grateful for a teaching space that makes it easy for her students to get that hands-on experience. “It’s a great setup,” she says. “Our science classroom is a full lab, complete with tables, counters and three sinks.”

Walking into Anderson’s classroom, one might see students performing any number of experiments—pouring Pop Rocks into a bottle of soda to blow up a balloon or using a pizza pan, broom and toilet paper roll to propel an egg into a glass of water (without breaking it!). What matters most to Anderson is that her students are active: “Doing science is more fun than just reading about how much fun a scientist had.”

They’re not just playing around, though. Whatever experiment students might want to try, Anderson makes sure they understand the science behind it. To accomplish this, Anderson incorporates English language arts and math. She regularly collaborates with the math and reading teachers on the 5th grade team.

Students must first conduct research, develop a hypothesis, put the experiment in writing (ELA) and determine how they will record data (math). They perform the experiment in front of their classmates, explaining what’s happening. “The students presenting, they’re the teachers,” Anderson says. Students complete the process by writing a conclusion.

Anderson has a master’s degree in Science Curriculum and Instruction from Black Hills State University and is Nationally Board Certified. Deb Thorpe, who took master’s classes with Anderson, nominated her for the Presidential Award. Once nominated, Anderson had to complete a rigorous application process. Of her professors at BHSU, she says, “What they taught me has led me here. I never would have tried for this award without having taken those classes.”

Her family background has also been a big influence on her penchant for teaching. Her father recently retired from teaching. Her mother, sister and sister-in-law teach. Her uncle is a superintendent and her grandmother was a teacher and principal.

Word of Anderson’s award spread quickly. She says it’s been a humbling experience: “I’m pretty excited about it. Former teachers have said something to my parents or sent a note. That was probably the best. Notes from my former teachers? That’s awesome.”

Anderson will get to meet other winners from around the country and attend an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., in early March.