Alumnus and College Place Middle School science teacher Amy Peterson was named a recipient of the 2020 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
PAEMST recognizes both excellence in the classroom and a commitment to improving STEM education on a broader scale. Peterson was chosen because she strives for continual growth as a science teacher and uses the knowledge she gains to design professional development opportunities for other educators.
Peterson sees reflection on lessons and practices as a crucial part of her work with students and educators. Her experience as a Master’s in Teaching candidate at the University of Washington College of Education has helped shape this philosophy.
“Reflection was a key component in every paper, class discussion, and classroom experience at UW,” Peterson said. “I reflect everyday on my practice and lessons -- how to improve the lesson before the next class period walks in, how to make the lesson more accessible to all students, who did I hear from, what voices weren’t heard?”
Within her own classroom and as an advocate for engaging, equitable science education, Peterson strives to make science class an environment where every student is challenged, eager to learn and comfortable sharing their ideas.
One technique Peterson uses to ignite curiosity is anchoring her units in natural phenomena and challenging her students to explain why they happen. In the past, she has used questions like “If the seafloor is spreading, why isn’t the Earth getting bigger?” and “Why are solar eclipses so rare?”
Peterson also tries to test the boundaries of students’ understanding by asking them to apply their knowledge to situations never discussed in class. At the end of a unit about why we have seasons, for example, she asked students to explain how the seasons would change if the Earth’s axis was not tilted.
By reflecting continually on how students voice their ideas and how their ideas change throughout the class period, Peterson is able to adapt lessons quickly to meet their needs.
“I want every student to understand and believe their ideas are a valued part of our classroom and essential to learning,” Peterson said. “During and after the lesson, I look at who was talking, how students' ideas have changed, who did not talk and what prevented them from sharing their thinking with the class.”
When leading workshops, Peterson shares what she learns from reflecting on her own practices. Even when she finds that a lesson does not work, she uses it as an opportunity for growth and supporting other educators.
“Learning is not always pretty,” Peterson said. “I have designed lessons that fell flat with my students, but I take that opportunity to reflect back on the lesson and ask . . . what did not allow students to make deeper connections in their understanding.”
As a PAEMST recipient, Peterson is excited to advocate for science education on more platforms and build relationships with educators around the nation. However, she plans to stay in the classroom because it always offers opportunities for growth.
“Right now the classroom is where I am supposed to be,” Peterson said. “Everyday I have the opportunity to try new things, challenge others to think critically, and learn from my students how to be a better human being, a more intent listener, and a stronger advocate.”
Story by Gabriela Tedeschi, marketing and communications student aide.