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Two Kansas educators named national finalists for math, science awards

Posted: Jun 26, 2018
Author: Ann Bush

Two Kansas educators are being recognized for their outstanding teaching skills through the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program.

The White House Office of Science Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Monday, June 25, that Heidi Harris, a mathematics teacher at Union Valley Elementary School, Buhler Unified School District 313, and Nancy Smith, a science teacher at Bentwood Elementary School, Olathe USD 233, are among more than 140 individuals and organizations being presented with the honor.

Harris and Smith were named Kansas finalists in 2016. The 2016 national finalists weren’t named by OSTP and NSF until June 25. The 2017 and 2018 national finalists will be announced at a later date.

The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which was established in 1983, is presented annually to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country.

Nominees complete a rigorous application process that requires them to demonstrate their excellence in content knowledge and ability to adapt to a broad range of learners and teaching environments. Winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.

Each year, the award alternates between educators teaching kindergarten through sixth grade and those teaching seventh through 12th grades. The awardees named June 25 teach kindergarten through sixth grade.

Harris has been an elementary school teacher for more than 21 years. She has served as a classroom teacher and as a mathematics specialist. Harris also taught for 17 years prior to her current assignment in a school with a high number of students who spoke limited English. The needs of those students challenged Harris to search for a deeper understanding of mathematics. She understands that not all students have had positive mathematics experiences, and it is her passion to see each student be successful in their mathematical thinking.

Harris won the Davis Teacher of the Year award in 2007 and has worked with many school districts implementing Cognitively Guided Instruction, which is a student-centered approach to teaching math that builds on a student’s natural problem-solving skills.

She received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Sterling College and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction with an English as a Second Language endorsement from Newman University. She is certified to teach elementary education.

“This award affirms the idea that anyone given the correct instruction in mathematics can be successful,” Harris said. “The Presidential Award is validation for the years I have spent striving for excellence through collaboration, collegial conversations and professional learning. It is through this understanding that I learned to bring mathematics content to my students, while nurturing relationships with them that supported their ability to value mistakes, persevere and grow through problem-solving.”

Smith has been in the education field for more than 30 years. She has served as an instructional coach and has taught at the university level. Smith utilizes project-based learning and exposes her students to hands-on, engaging science activities. She has received the Sally Ride-Deloitte Teaching Innovation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Award and was named the Kansas Society of Professional Engineers Teacher of the Year.

Smith has earned certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and special education from the University of Nebraska at Kearney and then pursued her master’s degree in elementary curriculum from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is certified to teach kindergarten- through ninth-grade classes and special education.

“The Presidential Award is an amazing honor that validates the importance of high-quality science education for young learners,” Smith said. “Because of the support of many, all students in my classroom are engaged in hands-on science projects that better prepare them for their futures. I look forward to sharing my passion for science for many years to come, and this award will allow me to network with peers to provide even more research-based, developmentally appropriate and fun activities for my students.”

The 2016 awardees represent all 50 states, Department of Defense Education Activity schools and schools in U.S. territories American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Winners of this Presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from NSF to be used at their discretion. Finalists also are invited to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and the Administration.

Since 1983, more than 4,700 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. 

For more information about PAEMST, visit www.paemst.org. For a list of all 2016 awardees, visit www.paemst.org/awardees_by_state.


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