The Texas Instruments (TI) Foundation recently granted the Innovations in STEM Teaching Awards to 14 teachers from the Dallas, Mesquite, Plano and Richardson Independent School Districts (ISDs) at a ceremony at TI‘s Dallas headquarters. The awards recognize the promotion of education of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The foundation has been granting STEM awards since 2007, and has already awarded $900,000 in recognition of the excellence of 90 teachers in the North Texas region.
The awards are designed to highlight local secondary math and science teachers for their quality instruction, as well as student achievements in the area of STEM. Each of the awardees will receive $10,000, half of which is granted to the teacher, while the other half is invested in professional development or instructional technology. The monetary prize is given through the Richardson ISD Excellence in Education Foundation, the Plano ISD Education Foundation, the Mesquite ISD Education Foundation, and the Dallas Education Foundation.
“We are proud to recognize the achievements these teachers are making in the classroom, and we truly value the important work they are doing,” stated the TI Foundation director of major education gifts, Ann Pomykal. “Without effective STEM teachers, students might not see the relevance of these disciplines to their future.”
“We focus our support on teacher effectiveness as a key strategy to improving student achievement in math and science. We’re especially passionate about reaching girls and minorities who are underrepresented in STEM careers in North Texas as well as throughout the country,” she added. “These teachers are creating a better future by making the STEM fields exciting and accessible to all students.”
In order to be eligible for the STEM Awards, the principals from the schools must nominate teachers based on the awards criteria, which include demonstrating and documenting teaching effectiveness, establishing classroom innovation, participating in education activities outside the classroom, and encouraging curiosity and increasing interest in STEM subjects among students. Each application is then reviewed by district teams, who conduct classroom observations and write a report with a list of finalists. The winners are selected from that list at the foundation.
The 14 TI Foundation STEM Award recipients for 2014 are:
Thelvie Cullins, School for the Talented and Gifted, teaches math. Cullins’ mantra is “Learn math. Don’t memorize it.” He has designed his own curriculum and teaching materials from scratch and structures his class in a way that rewards student perseverance and learning from mistakes. His students regularly receive outstanding scores – 85 percent of his students scored 3+ on their AP exams, versus 40 percent for the district overall.
Elizabeth Jordan, Emmett J. Conrad High School, teaches engineering. By applying her experiences in the engineering business world, Jordan brings that world into her classroom. She started a robotics program a few years ago with minimal supplies. Today, she has a full functioning engineering lab where students create and build robots to perform tasks identified during their research.
Lashonda Roberson, Raul Quintanilla Sr. Middle School, teaches science. Roberson routinely has her students work with technology to compute, analyze and present information. She introduces fun, interactive, research-based replications of physical phenomena designed to enable students to connect real-life occurrences with the underlying science.
Dr. Durgha Shanmugan-Johnson, Hillcrest High School, teaches science. The effectiveness of Dr. Shanmugan-Johnson’s physics classes lies in her ability to motivate students to use analytical and graphical methods in collaboration with surrounding technology to navigate through scientific principles.
Brian Romero Smith, Harry Stone Montessori Academy, teaches middle school technology and computer science. With his philosophy of “Meet Them Where They Are,” Smith uses tools that students are already excited about like mobile phones to create a classroom that engages even the most reluctant students.
Kristopher Stewart, Francisco Medrano Middle School, teaches math. In his single-gender classroom of boys, Stewart appeals to his students’ competitive and active nature by engaging them in physical competitions, such as math relay races to drive interest and active engagement to foster a strong desire to learn.
Saniyyah Thomas, James Madison High School, teaches chemistry. Thomas’ students attained a 96 percent passing rate on the Chemistry 2013 end-of-course (EOC) exam for which district and state averages were below 70 percent. For two years in a row, her students scored the highest passing percentage in their division on the district’s standardized Pre-AP Chemistry finals.
Melissa McGee, Dr. Ralph H. Poteet High School, teaches biology. Because she is willing to try almost anything to engage her students, McGee’s classroom is an adventure for students. Her Sunday afternoons are often spent in her classroom setting up labs, rearranging the room for effect for a certain lesson or organizing elements of a project so her students will have hands-on experiences.
Mark Wilburn, Vanston Middle School, teaches science. With labs he creates, fun videos that tie into the lesson, unique review games, classroom decor, silly jokes and songs, Wilburn entertains and captivates them into learning. Based on district tests, his students outperform nearly every other class in the city.
Deanna Shea, Shepton High School, teaches science. To promote a love and natural curiosity for science, Shea’s classroom displays fake body parts, shark jaws, frogs and pigs. She provides hands-on experiences, meaningful discussions and inquiry that help students grow in their learning. Her students have excelled nationally for their work with the science fair.
Heather Simpson, Robinson Middle School, teaches science. Each day, Simpson strives to transfer her excitement for science to her students. With engaging lessons and collaborative activities that challenge her students to think at the highest level, Simpson makes sure all of her students are successful. Outside the classroom, Simpson serves the district as a campus coordinator for the science fair. Under Simpson’s leadership, her school’s participation in the science fair has increased significantly.
Dusty Vincer, Plano East Senior High School, teaches biology. When asked what is distinctive about her higher-level biology classes, Vincer’s students said “class is very hands-on. We have a casual setting that is comfortable and conducive to learning and speaking freely. Visual learning is combined with technology and labs. Class is structured and organized to help me see the big picture before we get into the smallest, most specific details.”
Ann Bailey, Richardson North Junior High School, teaches math. Bailey’s creative, fun and inspiring teaching clearly produces results: she has the highest Algebra 1 student passing rate on state and district assessments, including all the high schools. To put it into perspective, for the last two years, all of her students passed their EOC and Texas Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (TAKS) tests. In fact, her eighth graders did better than the district’s ninth graders.
Lauren Gay, Richardson High School, teaches math. Gay works to ensure her students are prepared for a technologically-advanced and math-based world by using many resources to interact and engage all types of learners. She stresses how to apply math in the real world and exposes her students to possible future careers where those skills will be required.
“These teachers are instilling in their students a passion for new ideas and a desire to solve tough technical challenges. Most importantly, they are preparing the next generation of innovators,” said Pomykal, who went on to explain in a recent press release that STEM competencies required nowadays have changed due to innovation and technology developments, making it all the more important that students acquire necessary skills for their present and future educational progress.
The STEM Awards are included in a series of initiatives promoted by the TI Foundation, which are designed to promote and support innovative educational programs. Founded in 1964, the non-profit organization has been dedicated to increasing the percentage of high school graduates with proficiencies in math and science.