With science being the lead dancer in the marriage of technology, engineering and math through the popular STEM movement, the discipline has never been as cool as now.
But to Dan Ganoza, science has always held the top-dog spot in education.
“You can pretty much apply science to every aspect of your life,” said Ganoza, who recently was named the 2018 Teacher of the Year by the Colorado Association of Science Teachers.
“The cool thing about science is whatever strengths you have as a student, I can find the course for you — physics, biology, chemistry, environmental science,” he said. “We can cater to all kids.”
The award recognizes excellence in teaching in preschool through college classrooms statewide.
Ganoza, who teaches at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park School District RE-2, will receive a $500 prize at the Nov. 8 Colorado Science Conference.
Ganoza said he’s appreciative and humbled by the recognition, particularly since he’s been a teacher for just five years. An Air Force Academy graduate and retired lieutenant colonel, Ganoza spent 22 years in the Air Force, with 13 deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Haiti.
As a navigator, or back-seat driver, in C-130s and KC-135s military aircraft, the world flew by without Ganoza being able to pay much attention.
With the help of the Troops to Teachers program, which prepares military veterans for teaching careers, Ganoza became a biology, environmental science and global science teacher, who’s discovering the beauty of science along with his students.
“Kids see that spark and interest in me, which in turn, motivates them,” he said.
Ganoza’s ability to take science beyond the baking soda and vinegar-ignited volcanoes and into the labs of the world is part of what earned him the award.
“I look at things that I think will be fun and turn them into a learning experience that motivates students,” he said.
He recently led students on an impromptu trip to Yellowstone National Park to study the natural wonder.
Over the summer, he ventured with a group of students to the Amazon jungle, where they studied aquatic biology from a river boat for two weeks. Last spring, a class trekked to Utah’s Canyonlands National Park.
For the third consecutive year, Ganoza led Woodland Park High School’s Envirothon Team to win the state champion title and advance to the national competition.
“He goes way beyond what would be required as a classroom teacher,” said Rose Banzhaf, adviser for Woodland Park’s Envirothon team.
“His enthusiasm and dedication transfers to his students, inspiring them to levels of interest and dedication that has made them successes in the classroom, on Advanced Placement exams and at competitions,” she said.
Ganoza also works on making classroom time engaging. In a recent assignment, students did the math on this: “There are 7.25 billion of us, and we’re adding 1 million people every five days,” Ganoza said. “Scientists say we can only hold 10 billion people on the planet.”
Students determined that’s just 37 years away.
“Holy cow, we’ve got this dilemma right around the corner,” Ganoza said. “Our students will be in their prime then. What are we going to do? We’ll have to figure out a way to make this work.”