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Editorial: Teacher inspires students with ‘scientific’ approach

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For many of us, our only memory of Newton’s Laws of Motion is a dry description in a textbook or a boring lecture. We might know what the principles are, but identifying with them is a bit tenuous.

But for students in Teresa Gross’ fifth-grade class at Westwood Elementary School in Greenwood, these fundamentals of physics are marbles or coins. And activities that might seem like games actually are demonstrations of principles, taught in a way that not only makes them real but memorable and useful for a lifetime.

This approach to the teaching of science has earned Gross the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. As recognition for her skill in teaching science, she receives a trip to Washington, $10,000 and the possibility of meeting President Barack Obama.

The National Science Foundation chose Gross, a Mooresville resident who has been teaching for 24 years, to receive the national honor. She was one of two teachers from Indiana honored this year (the other is Jay Vahle of Carmel, who was honored for math teaching) and one of 102 teachers chosen from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and schools for military members’ children.

“She’s one of those very unique teachers that has such a passion for teaching and a passion for learning,” Gross’ principal, Lisa Harkness, said. “She’s constantly evolving as an educator. I can’t say enough and praise her enough for all that she does.”

As a fifth-grade teacher, Gross also teaches language arts, social studies and reading, but she said she particularly enjoys math and science. Outside the classroom, she directs a science summer camp and oversees a science club.

Gross excels at building relationships with students and getting children to think independently but also to work together and get excited about class projects, Harkness said.

Projects have included building their own bird nests with grass and other natural materials to learn problem-solving skills. They have built boats, then studied how many pennies it took to sink them in a wading pool. The students learned that by expanding the surface area of the boats, the little watercraft could support more pennies, Gross said.

“She’s very good at getting them to work and to delve in and to think,” Harkness said.

Harkness submitted Gross’ name for the state level of the competition, and Gross had to send in a video of herself teaching and fill out a lengthy application. She came out as one of the top three Indiana science teacher candidates in 2012. Her application and video then were forwarded to the national competition, which the National Science Foundation oversees.

Gross said hands-on experiences that get children actively involved in learning and curious about what they’re studying are important to how she teaches.

And that, if you’ll excuse the play on words, is a lesson we all can take away from Gross’ honor. Youngsters — and even the not so young among us — learn best when they are engaged, and the applicability of the lessons is clear.

This award is a signal honor for a creative educator. We join in commending her.

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