Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators

December 27, 2011

Are you a teacher, or do you know an outstanding teacher, who uses innovative approaches to teach about environmental education? The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who apply innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for exploratory and integrated learning.

As discussed in the “America’s Great Outdoors: A Promise to Future Generations” report, in order to make environmental stewardship and conservation relevant to young Americans, environmental and place-based, experiential learning must be integrated into school curricula and facilities across the country.

This program recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for learning for their students.

“This awards program will highlight and encourage innovative ways to getter integrate environmental issues into our young people’s everyday learning experiences—helping to turn environmental education into environmental action,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe.

Two teachers from each of EPA’s 10 regional offices will be selected to receive this award.  Visit EPA’s teacher award website at

Applications for the PIAEE are due on January 31, 2012.

Inquiry Based Science in Action at McQuaid

March 9, 2011

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In June 2010 I profiled McQuaid Jesuit science teacher Jeanne Kaidy on The STEM Blog.

Kaidy had just been named by President Barack Obama as one of 103 American teachers to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Kaidy, who has been teaching for thirteen years and is the chair of the science department at McQuaid Jesuit, attributed her recognition for the unique hands-on, inquiry based approach she brings to teaching science.

“I have an entirely inquiry and hands-on approach to teaching,” Kaidy said. “It appeals to kids who need tactile hands-on learning. That’s really what science is.”

Last week Kaidy invited me to see her approach in person when her AP Environmental Studies students presented their Mock Wolf Trial – a culmination of a month of research and preparation.

The excitement in her classroom was palpable when I arrived.

The boys – mostly juniors and seniors – were busy making final touches on their costumes.  Most had changed out of McQuaid’s signature navy blazer, khaki pants, and tie uniform and into clothes that represented the characters they would role-play during the trial.

Among the costumes were: an environmental activist, a Yellowstone National Park official, the governor of New York, a dairy farmer, a deer hunter, a commercial land developer, an ecotourism tour operator and more.

The name of the mock-trial was “Bringing Back the Wolves” and the question posed was “Should gray wolves (Canis lupus) be reintroduced to the northeastern U.S. (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York)?

Kaidy set up her classroom like a courtroom – on one side were the plaintiff’s – the “Defenders of Wildlife” arguing that wolves should be reintroduced to the wild.  On the other side were the defendants – the State Government of Maine – arguing against the reintroduction of the wolves.  In the middle was the witness stand.

As the “trial” got underway it was instantly clear that Kaidy’s students on both sides had prepared.

To facilitate preparation, prior to the hearing each team had to submit finished copies of opening and closing statements, a list of questions for witnesses (with expected answers), a list of questions expected on cross-examination (with answers) and a complete bibliography.

Each student also had to submit a reflection paper and a position paper.

The trial was judged by teachers Kaidy asked to observe.  The teachers scored the teams on opening statement, questioning, closing statements, judges questions, team participation, and costumes.

While I personally favored the costumes and team spirit on the plaintiff’s’ side, as the trial progressed I could see more preparation on the defendants’ side come through.  Having grown up in the Adirondacks and knowing a bit about this issue myself, I thought the plaintiffs would have a slam dunk, but by the trial’s end it was obvious the defendants won.

Kaidy said this is not the first time this has happened. “Sometimes the defendants prepare more because they feel they will be the underdog,” Kaidy said. “We saw that today.”

I spoke to members from both sides of the courtroom after the trial and quickly forgot what side they were on – what stood out was how much they had learned.

“This experience totally changed my opinion about wolves,” said senior George Grobe. “I learned more by having to research the issue myself instead of just hearing about it from Ms. Kaidy.”

Junior Alex Bourdelais agreed.

“I like hands on work,” Bourdelais said. “I learned that with the re-introduction of any species you have to look at the direct consequences and the indirect consequences. Sometimes the indirect are more important like we saw today.”

And, junior John Buono enjoyed the experience so much he is considering a career in environmental law.

Kaidy was pleased with the trial.

“Both sides had a lot of team work and showed me they understood the ecology, economics, and politics of wolves,” Kaidy said. “Those are all parts of what environmental science is.”

As I was leaving the classroom I noticed a bumper sticker on Kaidy’s blackboard that said:

“The truly educated never graduate.”

I believe Kaidy’s approach to teaching will absolutely ensure that even as these young men leave McQuaid they will carry with them an inquiry based approach to learning that does not stop when the assignments do.

Article and photos by Caurie Putnam

President Obama Names McQuaid Teacher Tops in STEM Education

June 21, 2010

Ms. Jeanne Kaidy of McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester, NY

Jeanne Kaidy – a science teacher at McQuaid Jesuit High School in Rochester – has been named one of the top STEM educators in the nation by President Barack Obama. 

On June 7, Kaidy was one of 103 American teachers announced by President Obama as a recipient of the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.  Kaidy was only one of two teachers from New York State to win this prestigious honor.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is given annually to the best pre-college-level science and mathematics teachers in the nation. Recipients are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.  Winners receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C. for an awards ceremony at the White House.  

In the official White House press release listing Kaidy as a recpient President Obama said: “Science and technology have long been at the core of America’s strength and competitiveness and the scientists and engineers who have led America on its remarkable path to success share something very precious: science and math teachers who brought these critical subjects to life.” 

Obama continued: “Today we honor some of the best of these teachers and thank them for their dedication. They are inspirations not just to their students, but to the Nation and the world.”

Kaidy was nominated for the award by an anonymous source at the Advanced Placement College Board – a testing organization she does consulting work for.  Following her nomination she had to write a 25 page essay on her philosophy of teaching.  When she found out she was one of President Obama’s choices for the award she was thrilled, but found her students were just as excited as she was.

Kaidy's students from McQuaid doing research at Mendon Ponds.

Kaidy has been teaching for twelve years.  All of her teaching – including student teaching – has been at McQuaid.  In addition to teaching biology and AP environmental science, she is also the chair of the science department.  She has a Bachelor of Science in biology with a concentration in aquatic ecology from State University of New York at Brockport, and Master of Science in education from Nazareth College of Rochester.

In speaking with Kaidy it was readily apparent what makes her unique as a STEM educator. “I am a scientist at heart,” Kaidy said, “That is how I see the world.”  Kaidy lives the subject she teaches and treats her students as scientists as well. “I am a purist,” Kaidy said, “I teach the scientific method and what scientists do in the real world. I treat my students like scientists and give them as much exposure to the real world as I can.”

When students enter Kaidy’s Advanced Placement environmental science course they quickly learn that Kaidy is not a teacher that confines her lesson plans to the classroom.  “The first thing we do is go white water rafting,” Kaidy said. “They learn the intrinsic value of nature and it brings the class together quickly.”

Some of the other unique experiences Kaidy gives her students are a mock wolf trial – where the class debates reintroducing wolves into the Adirondacks and field work at Mendon Ponds.  At Mendon Ponds her students must design their own experiments ahead of time. All of her lessons are problem solving and inquiry based.

Another trait that sets Kaidy apart is her willingness to fail in front of her students.  “I am not afraid to try new things in the classroom even if they [the experiments] fail,” Kaidy said, “If you model risk tasking in front of your students they won’t be afraid to take risks either.”

The teacher not afraid to fail has won the most prestigious teaching award in the county – there is a lesson to be learned in that.

Article by Caurie Miner Putnam, Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program at the Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science.

Meet Mr. Robert Hollwedel – Nominee for 2010 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award

May 24, 2010

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  – Robert Hollwedel, Nominee 2010 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award


Mr. Robert Hollwedel - Nominee for the 2010 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award

The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science is pleased to introduce Mr. Robert M. Hollwedel – a technology education teacher at Alexander Middle/High School – 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 the following New York Counties: Monroe, Cayuga, Allegany, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.

Mr. Hollwedel, who is also the Co-Chair of his school’s MST Education Department, was nominated for the award by Kathleen Maerten – Superintendet of the Alexander Central School District .

While interviewing Mr. Hollwedel for this article, it quickly became apparent what makes him a phenomenal teacher:  he loves what he does.  After twenty-seven years as a technology teacher (twenty-six of which have been at Alexander Middle/High School) Mr. Hollwedel still exudes passion for teaching technology.

“My career choice has been extremely positive and exciting,” Hollwedel said, “I’ve learned quite a bit from my students. We’re a team – my classroom is as much my environment as theirs.”

Mr. Hollwedel was drawn to technology while a high school student himself. “I was always a hands on person,” he said, “I always found myself in ‘the shop’ with teachers that motivated and supported me.”

Hollwedel earned his bachelor and masters degrees in industrial arts at Buffalo State, but also has an associates degree in criminal justice from Genesee Community College.  He has a special affinity for teaching high risk students. “I have always enjoyed the task of having these students rise to a challenge and find success,” Hollwedel said, “Even those in the high-risk category [can] achieve success in a progressive, purposeful endeavor.”

One such endeavor is the Genesee Community College’s Tech Wars – in which Hollwedel is a founding member and active contributor. Tech Wars allows high school students in the  to utilize the “hands on” approach to STEM learning that Hollwedel espouses.

Emphasing teamwork, Tech Wars participants work together to build things such as robots and bridges.   This year 330 students from sixteen schools in the GLOW Region (Genesee, Livingston, Ontario and Wayne Counties) competed. “Tech Wars is such a neat, positive program,” Hollwedel said, “It is an awesome place to see kids who did not ever think they could do something engineering related succeed. It is not the win that is important, but the light in their eyes when they make their robot go.”

Deborah Dunlevy, the College Tech Prep Director at Genesee Community College, works closely with Hollwedel on Tech Wars. “Mr. Hollwedel has a passion for teaching that everyone would love to see in all teachers,” Dunlevy said. “Most of the activities I have seen Bob involved in are outside of the classroom and the school day which only emphasizes his dedication to students…he doesn’t have a job; he has a career.”

Inside the classroom, Hollwedel is just as passionate and innovative.  In response to the national need to get girls more involved in STEM education and a need he saw in his own school, Hollwedel recently redesigned an elective technology course to make it more appealing to young women.  The course – which was formerly an architectural based drafting class, is now called “Designs on a Dime” and focuses on interior design and floor plans for homes and businesses.

Such action exemplifies what Alexander Secondary School principal Shannon Whitcombe wrote about Hollwedel in his nomination letter: “Bob does a great job identifying program gaps and looks for ways to promote math, science and technology courses to all students.”

One student whose life has been changed by Hollwedel is Ethan Willard.  Willard, who attends Alfred State, was a student in many of Hollwedel’s classes and participated in Tech Wars under his tutelage.  Said Willard, of his Tech Wars experience, “‘H’ [how many students refer to Hollwedel] took a group of kids, some which knew nothing about technology, and gave them something to be proud of and remember.”

Willard also said: “‘H’ is my biggest role model and the reason why I chose to go to college for mechanical engineering technology. ‘H’ was more than a teacher; he was a friend and mentor to all of his students.”

Being a role model and exemplary teacher is not something Hollwedel tries to be and that is part of what makes him great.  “I try to be who I am,” Hollwedel said. “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Congratulations to Robert Hollwedel and the other four finalists: Scott Krebbeks, Andy Maillet, Laura Westerman and Robin Hill.

Visit the Rochester Area College’s Center for Excellence in Math and Science’s website to view finalist’s activities.

Article by STEM Mentors Coordinator Caurie Putnam at

Congratulations STEM Award Finalists!

September 8, 2009

104_0712Cary Burke Photo bob - tetons

  David Ebersole                  Cary Burke                         Bob Dedrick

The Excellence in STEM Teaching Award recognizes those teachers who have used innovative and creative ways to engage their students in Math, Science, and Technology. Travel scholarships of $2000 each will be awarded to 5 finalists and a $10,000 classroom makeover prize will be given to one grand prize winner. On October 6th, there will be a Recognition Luncheon for them at the Rochester Museum & Science Center.

Congratulations David Ebersole!

September 7, 2009

david ebersole

Congratulations to David Ebersole, one of the finalists of the 2009 Excellence in STEM Teaching Award! He teaches Science at Athena Middle School in Greece and has been a teacher for 19 years. Using creative interactions with his students, David turns science into a classroom activity and a group learning experience. On October 6th, 2009, there will be a recognition luncheon for David Ebersole and the two other finalists at our Third Annual Rochester Educator Collaboration Event.

The STEM Award honors David’s activity of teaching student how two systems (respiratory and circulatory) worked together in order to help them understand the ILSPET exam.

The activity is set up in a large room (either a gym or classroom), using colored tape, diagrams, and objects to represent arteries, veins, lungs, heart as well as oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules. Students need to walk the path of a red blood cell as it travels through the lungs to pick up oxygen and drop of carbon dioxide, to the heart, through arteries, then veins, and back. This activity can be made as simple or as complex as needed based on the grade level.

At the end of Mr Ebersole’s activities, his students were not only able to show a better understanding of body systems, they also had fun and enjoyed class. Because this activity can be used at a variety of grade levels, it’s an extremely useful tool for any teacher looking for creative ways to help their students understand a topic.

Once again we would like to congratulate David Ebersole for winning the first round of the Excellence in STEM Teaching Award!

Congratulations to Suzanne Pilon!

August 5, 2009

White House

The Rochester Area Colleges’ Center for Excellence in Math and Science (RAC-CEMS) wants to congratulate Suzanne Monagan Pilon for receiving the  Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Mrs. Pilon is a Primary Multi-Age Teacher at Hilton’s Quest Elementary School. The news article can be found at Hilton Central School District’s website.

To find out more about this and other awards for educators, visit our web site’s Educator Fellowships and Awards page.