Students in her class have flipped rubber frogs across the school’s parking lot to learn about Newton’s laws of motion.
And at least once a semester, Teresa Gross’ Westwood Elementary School fifth-graders take home everything they need to conduct an experiment on their own.
Gross is an Indiana finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science teaching. State finalists will find out in June if they won a national level. Gross is a finalist for the science portion of the award.
Students in her class have built miniature cars to protect an egg and baked cookies to resemble atoms.
She conducts an annual weeklong summer science camp, where students can get a week of uninterrupted science instruction.
Lilly grants she has received have enabled students to get the materials to do science experiments at home.
Gross became an elementary teacher in 1990, and science became her favorite subject to teach.
She said the skills that students learn while solving a problem during a science experiment can be used in every other subject in school.
“My kids can Google content knowledge all day long, but that won’t give them thinking skills,” she said. “If I can instill some of those skills in students, then they can take it beyond (the class).”
People outside Greenwood schools have heard about her talents.
Westwood Principal Lisa Harkness nominated Gross for the award.
Her husband works for Eli Lilly and nominated Gross for the Lilly grants after hearing Harkness talk about the science experiments Gross does with her students.
And teachers from other school districts who work at the summer science camp take ideas from the camp and lessons they have learned from Gross back to their classrooms, Harkness said.
Every fifth-grade student is able to take a backpack with a science experiment home. And students from other school districts can enroll in the summer Camp Invention.
“Instructionally, that is how she has an impact outside of the Greenwood school district,” Harkness said.
Experiments in elementary school science classes are not common, Harkness said. Gross’ students conduct a big experiment almost every week, she said.
“For a lot of students who struggle with book learning, they can do hands on and be successful,” Harkness said.
Gross isn’t afraid to try new things in her classroom, Harkness said. She lets her students try their own techniques, and if something doesn’t work correctly, she isn’t afraid to tell the students and have them try again, she said.
“She is one of the rare teachers willing to take a risk in class,” Harkness said. “She is really good about letting the kids discover.”
Fifth-grader Anna Lowe said she appreciates the hands-on approach to science class.
She said she learns more when she conducts an experiment, rather than simply reading a book.
“I think I learn more when it is hands on,” Anna said. “You learn more when you see it work.”