Two Columbia science teachers win state award

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 3:39 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 8, 2010

COLUMBIA — Marsha Tyson grew up loving science and flipping through her father's orthodontic books, but she didn’t know she wanted to teach the subject until she was a student at MU.

Tyson has taught ninth-grade physics at Oakland Junior High School for 13 years, and she said she wouldn’t want to teach it anywhere else.

Science Teachers of Missouri, the state chapter of the National Science Teachers Association, awarded Tyson and fellow Columbia teacher Lorrie Askeland the 2009 STOM Outstanding Science Teachers Award.

Each year, the award is given to an elementary school teacher, a middle school teacher and a high school teacher. Teachers are nominated by a supervisor, principal, colleague, student or parent; once nominated, a teacher must submit a two- to four-page essay and provide three letters of recommendation.

Sara Torres, the science and health coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, nominated Tyson and Askeland, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade science at Mill Creek and Ridgeway elementary schools.

“It’s wonderful — we’ve had a Columbia Public School sweep of this award," Tyson said. "I think it truly reflects the quality we have in our district for science educators.”

Askeland taught fifth grade and special education classes in the past but found herself looking forward to the times of day when she got to teach science. She has spent 11 years as a science specialist in Columbia out of her 18 years in teaching. Specialists are teachers who travel to more than one school.

Her desire to teach followed her becoming a mother. “I think for me, once I became a parent, teaching seemed like a better idea," Askeland said. "I think it’s made me become a better teacher, being a parent first.”

Askeland is at Ridgeway on Mondays and Wednesdays, but her home school — the one where she has a classroom — is Mill Creek. She received her teaching degree at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and her master’s degree at MU. Since joining Columbia Public Schools, she has started two science clubs and an animal adoption program in which students take an animal home for the weekend.

Tyson and Askeland share a favorite aspect of teaching, which they describe as watching the light bulb click on in students' minds when they understand something.

The teachers were recognized and given plaques Oct. 3 at the 2009 STOM Professional Development Conference in Jefferson City.

“I think there are great teachers out there; some choose to fill out applications and jump through the hoops. But I also think there are great teachers that choose not to do that as well," Tyson said.

Tyson has taught a class on secondary science methods at MU, her alma mater, for three years. In the future, Tyson would like to find a way to combine mentoring teachers at the university level with her current position at the ninth-grade level. She is involved with a grant at the university called Teaching 2 Practice, which is meant to help new teachers match what they do in their classrooms with what they learn at the university.

“If they don’t go off and be scientists and science teachers, fine,” Tyson said. “But if they can sit in my class and they can learn and apply what they’re learning to their own lives, that’s gold.”

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