2010-04-29 / News

Islander wins prestigious teaching award

By Eileen M. Daly

Islander Erin Escher (right), a teacher at Portsmouth Middle School, and his students explore the diversity of Ft. Getty’s sandy beach and rocky shore during his annual field trip to Ft. Getty. Islander Erin Escher (right), a teacher at Portsmouth Middle School, and his students explore the diversity of Ft. Getty’s sandy beach and rocky shore during his annual field trip to Ft. Getty. Islander Erin Escher has won the prestigious Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence in Rhode Island. He teaches sixth-grade science at Portsmouth Middle School.

The AASTE is given to only 34 teachers nationwide, and to four in Rhode Island. The annual awards program recognizes extraordinary contributions by educators who are elevating the level of science literacy by motivating students and being creative in the classroom, according to the National Education Association website.

Escher’s curriculum covers some biological science, earth science, science and technology, and physical science, but it’s his teaching methods that helped him win the award.

“I have researched and pursued extensive training for teaching inquiry based science with student science notebooks,” he said. “Basically, this method involves facilitating the delivery of big ideas and concepts through student-generated focus questions.”

It’s a method, he said, that gives students more ownership of their learning.

“They are excited to collect data to see if they can accept or reject their hypothesis,” he said. “Students are then ready to state their claims and evidence gathered and communicate their findings in the conclusion portion of the report.”

In addition, Escher said, he strives to continuously work toward the mastery of science content knowledge through formal education and training, and to include real-life learning in the classroom.

“I have ongoing relationships with various local universities, such as MIT, Brown and URI, which enable me to incorporate real-world connections to my classroom,” he said. “I strive to bring learning to life and make it meaningful for every student.”

Winners of the AASTE are chosen based on:

• Creativity and effectiveness of teaching methods

• A plan for use of grant money to improve science education resources in their school

• A lesson plan that showcases innovative methods in the classroom

To be eligible, teachers must be full-time public or private K-12 science teachers who have taught for at least three years, and whose major responsibilities are the teaching of science. They must also teach in communities in which Amgen, a biotechnology company that discovers, develops, manufactures and markets human therapeutics for serious illnesses, operates.

Portsmouth Middle School Principal Joseph Amaral supported Escher in the nomination and application process for the award, Escher said.

The process, however, was nonetheless grueling.

“The application was very thorough and included two parts. The first part was to demonstrate excellence

in professional development experiences both learned and facilitated,

and to demonstrate creativity and effectiveness of instruction in my science teaching. The second part was based on the planned use of funds if awarded,” he said.

The Amgen award includes a $5,000 cash award for the recipient, as well as a matching cash award for the recipient’s school.

Escher said he plans to use the monetary award to “refurbish the school greenhouse to further enhance grade-six plant studies and support the growing of plants for my garden club’s civic beautification and native landscapes initiatives.”

Escher also said that he appreciates the efforts made by Amgen to recognize the importance of science teaching and the professional recognition given to him by the corporation.

“I am extremely grateful and impressed with Amgen for recognizing dedicated and effective science teachers. I hope the publicity will inspire other teachers to continue advancing their craft and improving science programs at their school by applying for this award,” Escher said.

Visit www.amgen.com for more information.

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