What Makes A Great Science Teacher?

**Written by Jason George | Featured in November-December 2016 issue of Education Matters

  • Jason George is a teacher at Vision Charter School in Caldwell, Idaho. He has been recognized as one of Idaho’s top secondary science educators.

After recently winning the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, I was asked what makes a great science teacher. Wow, what a question! Not sure I can sum it all up in one article because there is so much that goes into being a great teacher.

First and foremost, I should start by saying that great science teachers are keenly aware that they don’t know everything, and research on teaching and learning is constantly yielding vast amounts of data that should cause us to reflect daily upon our teaching practices.

Great science teachers—and all great teachers for that matter—are willing to grow as professionals and try new things. Parents, administrators, and education stakeholders shouldn’t worry too much about the teacher who makes a mistake because they are willing to step outside of their comfort zone and push their students. In fact, this should be encouraged!

We should, however, worry about the teacher who claims to have it all figured out and is unwilling to change their teaching pedagogy regardless of what the research says about the way students learn. These teachers don’t want to rock the boat, are satisfied with the status quo, and go about their business as usual.

We are dealing with a generation of students who are facing this rapidly changing world and that change dictates that we remain flexible and open to new and even uncomfortable ideas. Great science teachers understand this and that is why they are beginning to focus less on content and instead focus on how to develop critically thinking students who understand the scientific process, which is an invaluable decision-making tool.

Our students today have to listen to a cascade of voices and opinions via family, friends, and social media. It is wise then for great science educators to teach them how to evaluate these voices and opinions and to help students make claims based on the weight of evidence before arriving at a decision. This is not just a scientific skill; it is a life skill.

Great teachers want their students to wait to make a claim until they have had a chance to analyze the data and the patterns within that data. Great teachers want their students to understand that there might be multiple ways they can test and solve difficult problems. Great teachers want their students to evaluate the differing perspectives brought forth by a wide variety of stakeholders and make sure that their decisions are based on broad scientific consensus and not public opinion or past cultural norms.

Here’s what great science teachers are:

  • In order to develop these problem-solving skills, great science teachers are not going to give students problems that have a predetermined pathway and a single answer already in mind.
  • Great science teachers are not going to dismiss creativity and ingenuity in favor of cookie-cutter labs that only measure the student’s ability to follow directions rather than their ability to design unique ways to test problems.
  • Great science teachers are not opposed to progress; they are opposed to blind progress that results from narrow-minded thinking.
  • Great science teachers are not opposed to hands-on learning; they are opposed to activities that are simply fun or entertaining but don’t really result in any sort of conceptual understanding or change.
  • Great science teachers look to identify student misconceptions and help them think about previously held understandings concerning the way the natural world operates.
  • Great science teachers are always conscious of a student’s zone of proximal development and seek to push their students out of their comfort zone so that real learning can take place. We don’t grow unless we are uncomfortable.
  • Great science teachers seek to have their students develop models (no, a model is not something that can be eaten later) to test and understand new phenomenon.
  • Great science teachers ask more questions that lead to more questions and refuse to just give out answers and teacher-centered directions.
  • Great science teachers don’t place a worksheet in front of students and call it “science”.
  • Great science teachers are coaches, facilitators, mentors, and leaders of student-led discussion and student-generated research.
  • Great science teachers ask why and how questions constantly.
  • Great science teachers lead students to develop claims, evidence, and
    reasoning to support their position.
  • Great science teachers invite students to argue with their peers, be critical of information, and don’t shy away from controversial topics for the sake of politics.
  • Great science teachers make real world connections for students, and invite them to pursue careers that will solve the difficult problems we face.
  • Great science teachers encourage their students to fail so that they can eventually come to a solution.

Great science teachers are many things, but they are definitely not stagnant. I love what I do, I hope that I can continue to pursue the excellence demanded by this profession. I strongly believe that students need great science teachers more than ever.

We have huge problems when it comes to complex issues such as climate change, global health issues, energy, infrastructure, and cyber security.
As a society, we need creative students who are willing to move outside the box that might have been constructed for them and pursue solutions that were never even imagined prior to their generation.

I am proud to inspire these students and I hope that a new generation of STEM teachers will rise up and take the torch so that we can continue to hope for a better future.

Creative Young Inventors Are Exceptional Summer Interns

Imagine hiring a summer intern with creative problem solving skills who can communicate effectively and is an independent, self-motivated worker!  The Invent Idaho High School State Finals Grand Champion inventor may be the very intern you are seeking for your business or industry.

The team at Invent Idaho, the Northwest’s premier student invention competition, has a win-win proposal for companies in Idaho: As part of the student’s award package for earning the title “Invent Idaho Grand Champion High School Inventor”, one high school student will receive an invitation to interview with your company for a possible summer internship.  Please note that this does not in any way obligate you to hire a student who does not meet your requirements. The young inventor would have to earn that position themselves through the interview process. It does, however, provide the student with a guaranteed interview.

This opportunity is a win-win situation because your company will receive the benefits of a high school intern with a proven track record of hard work, creativity, and real world problem solving skills, and a summer internship looks great on a resume and college application for that student.

If you are interested in becoming the first company in Idaho to support our home-grown creative youth by providing an interview for the Invent Idaho Grand Champion, please contact Beth Brubaker, Invent Idaho State Coordinator, at

STEM Is A State Of Mind

Timothy Hunt earned a Ph. D. in English from Northern Illinois University in 1971.  For many years he taught humanities, non-profit management and communication at colleges and universities in Arizona and Idaho.  He is now retired and lives in Hayden with his wife and their three cats.

I very much liked what Angela Hemingway wrote recently, that the working definition of STEM in Idaho is an integration of two (or more) STEM fields and is broad, encompassing not only the traditional STEM fields, but also health care and social sciences. She hit on a very important point—most productive thinking is done by people who think in interdisciplinary terms.

About thirty years ago, I met an inventor in Sandpoint named Jim Healy.  He had founded a company called Lead-Lok which I visited.  Their main product was a really neat looking apparatus (a locking lead) that enabled patients to be attached to electrical monitoring machines without the traditional discomfort associated with the removal of the leads.  I remember an EKG when I was seventeen; the worst part was tearing off those leads. Goodness, it hurt. Jim’s invention had clips that could be opened again and removed painlessly.

He reminded me of Gyro Gearloose, the anthropomorphic chicken and famous inventor who lived in Duckburg, Donald Duck’s home town.  That is, Jim had a rare ability to leave this universe for another presumably parallel one where he could do some uninterrupted thinking and then return with his newly found knowledge.  In the instance I recall, we were standing in his garage looking at some water skis he had invented when it occurred to me that my neighbor back home in Flagstaff had a problem that needed fixing.  He had dropped and broken one of his two garage door openers; back in those days that meant you needed a new motor which was expensive. I asked Jim and he left me briefly for that other universe. Fortunately he returned, and with the answer. The difficulty was simply to ascertain the radio frequency of the opener and the motor.  A tool used in television repair, he told me, could identify frequencies.  Replacement was easy once that information had been obtained.  I returned to Flagstaff with that solution, my neighbor went to a television repair shop, and presto, a new opener was born for no cost whatever since the repairman got a kick out of being asked and rebuilding the old apparatus.  I have often wondered whether or not the television repairman advertised his newly found skill.  Today we have different ways of setting frequencies.  Now Jim Healy had no background in electronics.  His inventions were from an entirely different realm of STEM; but he was willing to think in interdisciplinary terms, at least long enough to solve a problem.

For many years I taught interdisciplinary studies, the humanities.  I recall that I came to understand Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” only after I came to understand the nature of the medieval cathedral.  I also remember hearing about a linguist who was working on the development of languages in Scandinavian countries.  He met an ichthyologist at a cocktail party and the two began discussing the research problem in linguistics. It happens the fish doc had been working with the migration of herring in the same geographical region and knew that the fish moved in regular patterns. By backing up the movement of the herring through the centuries, the linguist was able to figure out how fishermen moved to follow their prey and after that the language patterns virtually worked themselves out.  Yes, I am a firm believer in interdisciplinary thinking.  I am delighted that Angela has introduced her readers to the notion in STEM fields.


Defining STEM – Critical, But Not As Easy As You Might Think

This is a guest blog post by Angela Hemingway, Executive Director, Idaho STEM Action Center, that was featured recently by Education Commission of the States –

As the term STEM has become more widely used, people can recite the words associated with the acronym: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. However, beyond this seemingly simple definition, various stakeholders often have significantly different conceptions of what STEM actually means in application. To some it’s a very single-subject, segregated expression of disciplines, such as chemistry or biology or engineering. Others describe STEM as the integration of two or more disciplines, such as math and engineering. Still others focus on the need for STEM to mirror professional practices, which often include not only integration of two or more of the STEM fields, but also critical thinking and the ability to solve real-world issues.

However, if one of the goals of STEM education is to prepare young people for careers in STEM occupations, it is absolutely essential that states adopt a definition of STEM on which all stakeholders can agree, and that the definition corresponds with how STEM knowledge and skills are applied in the world of work.

To ensure consistency throughout the state when discussing STEM, the Idaho STEM Action Center has adopted a broad, integrated definition of STEM that aligns with the definition used by the Idaho Department of Labor. When educators apply this integrated approach in their classroom, students will ultimately benefit by entering the workforce with the frame of mind and skills they need for success.

Relatively few states, though, have set out to adopt a statewide definition of STEM that is shared by the diverse STEM stakeholders. What led Idaho to embark on this process? Quite simply, after four meetings of the Idaho STEM Action Center Board, it occurred to me that the definitions of “STEM” that our industry and education representatives were using were very different. That is, the education definition was more the “siloed” vision of the STEM disciplines – students study math, or physics, or biology, not necessarily an integration of these subjects. Alternatively, many industries assumed integration of disciplines. In other words, most students taking advanced math in college do not necessarily pursue careers as mathematicians, but as engineers, physicists, etc. who use advanced math to do their jobs. I realized that if our Board’s education and labor representatives were defining “STEM” in different ways, ultimately it would be difficult for us to determine the end goal of our efforts.

I decided to see what research had been done on defining STEM. I reviewed a variety of sources, from education and economics (i.e., jobs and labor reports), from both academic journals and government reports. I knew that doing so would help ensure the Idaho STEM Action Center defined STEM in a way that was not only true to the needs of labor (an integrated STEM approach), but also would differentiated the Center’s work from that of the Idaho Department of Education, which is very focused on specific subjects.

Based on this research, the definition of STEM presented to and approved by the Idaho STEM Action Center board is that STEM is “an integration of two (or more) STEM fields” and that the definition is “broad,” encompassing not only the traditional STEM fields, but also health care and social sciences. This integrative and broad definition mirrors the occupations defined as STEM by Idaho Department of Labor and the requests from employers that STEM graduates integrate STEM disciplines in the workplace and possess the soft skills to succeed.

Having a clear definition of STEM will allow the Center to systematically focus on projects and programs that are truly integrative while also tracking outcomes related to all STEM jobs.


(BOISE) – The Idaho Teacher of the Year Program, which began in 1959, is one of the most prestigious honors in the state for teachers. The program focuses public attention on excellence in teaching that has a real impact on the students of Idaho.

The Idaho Teacher of the Year is chosen from among district nominees by a selection committee representing the state education leaders and lawmakers. Each school district and charter school may nominate one teacher. School districts should submit the nominations to the State Department of Education before the end of the school year.

The Idaho Teacher of the Year also becomes a nominee for the National Teacher of the Year, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers that is sponsored by Scholastic Inc.

Applications for Idaho Teacher of the Year must be postmarked by August 19, 2016 to be considered.  If you have questions regarding this process, please contact Jo Ann Bujarski at (208) 332-6848 or by email at

Free Elementary STEM Education Webinars

In partnership with, Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is hosting free webinars during the month of July that are geared towards elementary STEM education.

Turn Your Elementary School into a STEM School! How-To Steps from Educators Who Transformed Their School

Monday, July 11, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT

In this webinar, Susan Hayes, principal of Barkley Bridge Elementary in Hartselle, Alabama, and her three colleagues – Angie Harris, 4th grade math teacher; Kim Jared, gifted specialist; and Jamie Dutton, library media specialist – will outline their school’s STEM journey and share why they chose to ride the wave of change and how they held on successfully



Age-Appropriate Computer Science for K-5 Students: Strategies and Resources for Your Classroom

Thursday, July 21, 2016 @ 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm EDT

In this webinar, Lori Fields, Associate Director of Engagement for Project Lead The Way (PLTW), and Rebecca Reed, PLTW Regional K-5 PLTW Launch Trainer, will share successful strategies and real-world classroom examples for introducing computer science at the elementary level.



K-5 Students’ Natural Curiosity: The Key to True STEM Learning

Thursday, July 28, 2016 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EDT

In this webinar, Ginger Teague, Director of Professional Development at Project Lead The Way (PLTW), and Emily Schaefer, K-5 STEM educator in Crystal Lake, IL will discuss how an Activity-, Project-, Problem-Based—or APB —instructional approach can empower teachers to create an exciting STEM learning experience as early as kindergarten


Idaho Young Inventors Shine at National Invention Convention

By Beth Brubaker

Young inventors from Idaho won six major awards at the National Invention Convention in Washington, DC., May 20-21.  The event was hosted by the US Patent Office and Trademark Office. Over 240 young inventors in grades 3-12 from 21 states participated in the first National Invention Convention, created by the STEMie Coalition.  Sponsors included Microsoft, United Technologies, Stanley Tools, and the Lemelson Foundation.  One third of the 18 Idaho attendees placed at this auspicious event, which was a superb showing for Idaho.

The Idaho winners were:

  • Corrine Pixton, a 4th grader from Boise, Idaho, won two awards for her “Mow Safe” invention:  Second Place for all Fourth Grade inventions and the Government/Safety Award sponsored by the Washington Home Land Security Roundtable.
  • Joshua McKenna, a 6th grader from Rathdrum, Idaho, won the prestigious “Best Poster” display award for his “Porta Potty Survival Kit” invention.  This clever display was in the shape of a porta potty mounted on a turntable, so that all sides containing information about his invention could be viewed easily.
  • Evelyn Hollis, a 5th grader from Meridian, Idaho, won the Community and Societal Benefits Award for her invention “The Learning Pod”, which would help the homeless gain educational skills.  The Community Award was sponsored by the Lemelson Foundation.
  • Zachary Linford, a 3rd grader from Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, won the Environmental Award for his invention “The Hawksbill Hatchling Helper”, which is designed to assist endangered baby turtles to find their way to the ocean.
  • Pragathi Durga Rajarajan, a 6th grader from Boise, Idaho, earned the highly-coveted Jules Verne Award for her “Tornado Catcher” invention, which would cause tornadoes to dissipate.  The Jules Verne award is for highly theoretical and futuristic invention ideas.

Josh McKenna Porta Potty Survival KitABOUT INVENT IDAHO:

Young inventors in grades 1-12 are inspired and recognized for their innovations through the Invent Idaho student invention program, an annual event which includes three Regional qualifying invention competitions and the Invent Idaho State Finals.  Inventors’ projects are judged and awarded in grade level divisions as well as five categories:  Working Models, Non-Working Models, Adaptations, Gadgets and Games, and the Jules Verne Category.  Winners at each Regional competition progress to the Invent Idaho State Finals, held at the University of Idaho in Moscow.  Best of Show and Best of Category winners receive Science kit awards, as well as an invitation to “pitch” their invention at the University of Idaho’s Engineering EXPO.  In addition, top inventors were invited to the first National Invention Convention in Washington, DC.  For further information about how to participate or become a sponsor, visit

FabSLAM 2016 — Awe Inspiring Results

Idaho FabSLAM 2016 was a huge success! Over 75 students (grades 5-8) and 26 mentors from around the state converged on the Discovery Center of Idaho for the inaugural 3D Design and Fabrication Showcase event held May 14th. The FabSLAM Showcase was the culmination of a project that began in March when the STEM Action Center and the Digital Harbor Foundation trained 20 teachers from 15 schools throughout the state as coaches and equipped them with 3D printers. For this year’s theme, each team identified an issue in their community that could be addressed using 3D printing and digital fabrication and then developed and documented a product to help resolve it. At the FabSLAM Showcase, the teams presented their solutions to a panel of five judges and a public audience for review and feedback.The winning teams received over $1,250 in cash prizes to help continue funding STEM learning in their schools.

And now for the winning teams! Drum Roll Please!…

(Generic caption) Students from around Idaho participate in the 2016 FabSLAM Idaho Showcase at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, May 14, 2016. The FabSLAM Showcase was the conclusion of a 3D printing design and fabrication competition featuring teams from schools around Idaho conducted by the Idaho STEM Action Center. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger for Idaho STEM Action Center)

From Nampa, Lone Star Middle School’s G T.E.A.M. took first place with its Homeless Emergency Life Pack, or HELP. The wheeled suitcase can be turned into a one-person shelter. The team also earned the Students’ Choice Award based on votes from their peers. You can view the team website and learn all about the project.

In second was the ElemEngineers from Boise’s Hawthorne Elementary School — the only elementary school participating in FabSLAM Idaho this year. The team created a trap that hangs on fruit trees to lure and kill fruit flies that destroy soft-skinned fruit crops. Check out this team’s design cycle at their website.

Coder Bunnies, the third-place team from Kuna Middle School, created a filtration system to remove trash and sediment from canal water before it’s used for irrigation. Read about the process this team used to create a viable filter here.

Other participating schools included Emmett Middle School in Emmett, Jefferson Middle School in Caldwell, Jerome Middle School in Jerome, Kimberly Middle School in Kimberly, Lakeside Junior/Senior High School in Plummer, Marsing Middle School in Marsing, Middleton Middle School in Middleton, Vera C. O’Leary Middle School in Twin Falls, Vision Charter School in Caldwell, West Middle School in Nampa, and Vallivue Middle School in Caldwell. Click on each of the links to access the team’s website and read more about their projects.

(Generic caption) Students from around Idaho participate in the 2016 FabSLAM Idaho Showcase at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, May 14, 2016. The FabSLAM Showcase was the conclusion of a 3D printing design and fabrication competition featuring teams from schools around Idaho conducted by the Idaho STEM Action Center. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger for Idaho STEM Action Center)

(Generic caption) Students from around Idaho participate in the 2016 FabSLAM Idaho Showcase at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, May 14, 2016. The FabSLAM Showcase was the conclusion of a 3D printing design and fabrication competition featuring teams from schools around Idaho conducted by the Idaho STEM Action Center. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger for Idaho STEM Action Center)

(Generic caption) Students from around Idaho participate in the 2016 FabSLAM Idaho Showcase at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, May 14, 2016. The FabSLAM Showcase was the conclusion of a 3D printing design and fabrication competition featuring teams from schools around Idaho conducted by the Idaho STEM Action Center. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger for Idaho STEM Action Center)

(Generic caption) Students from around Idaho participate in the 2016 FabSLAM Idaho Showcase at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday, May 14, 2016. The FabSLAM Showcase was the conclusion of a 3D printing design and fabrication competition featuring teams from schools around Idaho conducted by the Idaho STEM Action Center. (Photo by Otto Kitsinger for Idaho STEM Action Center) – Cohort 2 Registration Open

Idaho Digital Learning in collaboration with the Idaho Technology Council are actively seeking participants who would like to join the second cohort of free professional development for the 2016-2017 school year. is providing a $15 per hour stipend for each hour of completed training for participants accepted into the program. Teachers can select from the following professional development opportunities that aligns with your high school or middle school:
Middle School:

High School:

Feel free to contact Sherawn Reberry <> if you have any additional questions. The links above provide additional information and procedures for applying.