A science teacher at Woodland Park High School who traded lectures for podcasts and spends much of his class time helping students individually has won one of the nation’s top teaching awards.
Aaron Sams, 33, was one of two Colorado secondary school teachers to win the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Sams won the science award, and Carrie Heaney, a math teacher at Sky Vista Middle School in Cherry Creek School District 5, won the math award.
The winners receive $10,000 and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and other activities.
“I’m just kind of doing my thing and trying to do it well,” Sams said Saturday. “It’s nice to be recognized for working hard and helping kids.”
Sams and colleague Jonathan Bergmann, a 2002 Presidential Award winner, began using podcasts instead of classroom lectures “full-bore” in 2007 and never looked back. The concept has been so successful that the two now train other teachers in the district, region and throughout the country.
Sams videotapes his lessons, including computer screen shots and other information that can help students understand the concepts. The students can listen/watch the lesson on various electronic devices, repeatedly if necessary.
“They can pause their teacher, or rewind their teacher and listen again,” Sams said. That frees up class time for answering student’s questions, more lab work and providing more individual help.
“I probably do twice as many lab exercises in my classroom and a lot more one-on-one,” he said. “I spend more time with kids who need extra attention.”
“I hardly have any D students any more,” he said. “The D students have moved to Cs, the C students to Bs and the B students to As.”
The tiny percentage who flunk — those who aren’t engaged and who don’t do the work — is about the same, he said.
Sams said Woodland Park School District Re-2 and the high school principal have been supportive of the science teachers’ efforts to try innovative classroom instruction. The district pays them a stipend to train colleagues in the district on how to make and use video podcasts.
He and Bergmann also provide training for other districts, and just returned from a week of training teachers in Sioux Falls, S.D.
The Colorado Springs native has been at Woodland Park High School for four years, mostly teaching chemistry courses.
He also served as co-chairman of a statewide committee that revised state education standards for science.
When he graduated from Biola University with a degree in biochemistry, Sams said he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. But after a year of lab work, he returned to Biola to get a master’s degree in education and taught for six years in southern California.
And he expects to continue teaching.
“I’m just really thankful for a supportive administration, supportive colleagues and a supportive family,” said Sams, who is married and has three young children. “I’m happy to be able to be innovative and help the kids.”
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ABOUT THE AWARD
The prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching are administered by the National Science Foundation for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The awards rotate yearly between primary and secondary teachers, and are based on nominations and a lengthy application process.
This year awards were given to teachers in seventh through 12th grade. Up to two awards, one in math and one in science, are given to teachers in each state and four U.S. jurisdictions.
For more details on the awards go to www.paemst.org.