The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science is pleased to introduce Mrs. Laura Westerman – a Science teacher at Dake Junior High School in West Irondequoit – as a nominee for the 2010 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award.
This award is given annually to recognize effective, engaging, and innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teaching in grades K-12 in Monroe and nine surrounding counties.
Mrs. Westerman, who teaches 7th grade General Science at Dake Junior High School, received her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Science Education from Syracuse University and recently completed her Masters degree in Literacy (grades 5 – 12) at SUNY Geneseo.
Mrs. Westerman is committed to developing learning experiences that are authentic, inquiry based and hands on. For example, Westerman created an activity titled “The Atomic Dating Game,” to help students envision and understand chemical bonding and reactivity between atoms.
During the atomic dating game, students make an atomic drawing of the element “Mr. Sodium” and have a brief discussion about its reactivity. In a game show format, the students then meet the bachelorettes who are candidates for dating or bonding with Mr. Sodium. Based on what they have learned about chemical reactivity the students chose the correct bond or “date” for Mr. Sodium. Students create additional couples for Ms. Oxygen, Ms. Neon, and Mr. Boron, and discover further bonding relationships. Students also work in collaborative groups to identify element couples and identify different patterns associated with ionic and covalent bonding.
To assess student understanding, Westerman has students create Facebook pages, including a description of the element and a list of the corresponding reactive elements and why they are appropriate bonds. Westerman indicates that 100% of her students have successfully selected an appropriate element for their atom to bond with.
“I firmly believe that students learn content when they construct meaning themselves, when they see a purpose for learning the content or when they make a connection to material,” Westerman said, “Science should not be a string of facts that are memorized.”
This kind of dedication exemplifies what Dake Middle School Principal, Timothy Terranova, wrote about Laura in his recommendation letter. ”Laura is an extremely innovative teacher. She cultivates a student centered classroom where the children are involved in inquiry based experiences. Laura is reflective and is constantly refining her instructional practice to create more relevant and pragmatic learning experiences.”
Article by RACCEMS’s Graduate Assistant, Katie Monroe