The sky is the limit: St. Charles teachers honored by Shell

Principal David Schexnaydre, Lauren Waguespack, Rochelle Touchard.

Two St. Charles Parish teachers were named among 39 winners in the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge Competition.

Kristin Surmik of Ethel Schoeffner Elementary School won on the elementary level and Lauren Waguespack of Harry Hurst Middle School, on the middle school level.

Surmik called the recognition exciting.

“It’s something that can have extra resources to add to our teaching,” she said. “It’s basically going to be a supplement for what we already have, but the more the better.”

Surmik and Waguespack are going to the S.T.E.M. Forum, which is being held in San Francisco from July 24 – 26.

For Waguespack, this is her second win.

“The conference provides new techniques, engaging students in science,” she said. “It just provides a wealth of opportunity to explore what’s out there and help incorporate technology into science education, new techniques in engaging students in S.T.E.M. education and, most importantly because I teach in a regular science classroom, it’s a way to incorporate S.T.E.M. into education and the classroom.”

She added, “A lot of jobs our students will walk into in the future will be S.T.E.M. related jobs. We’re preparing students for jobs we haven’t even thought of that we will need in the workforce. We’re trying to prepare them to think about science, math and technology … the sky is the limit.”

Sponsored by Shell Oil Co. and administered by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the competition is aimed at encouraging K-12 science teachers, who have found innovative ways to deliver quality lab experiences with limited school and laboratory resources, to share their approaches for a chance to win a school science lab makeover support package.

Rochelle Touchard, Kristin Surmik, Principal Vanessa Terry.

Surmik’s philosophy of teaching science is to use hands-on learning experiences and literature to promote deeper thinking and questioning, which can lead to a stronger understanding of science.

“If students act as scientists and perform experiments to answer questions, they become critical thinkers and problem solvers and learn the importance and benefits of collaborative work,” she said.

Surmik’s school does not currently have a science lab – all science teachers conduct lessons and experiments in their classrooms.

This grant would allow the school to convert a portion of the computer lab into a science lab, which would provide teachers a space to prepare for experiments ahead of time rather than spending class time setting up and tearing down experiments multiple times a day. Another advantage of having a science lab would be a larger workspace for group experiments. A science lab would also offer a community storage space for all of the supplies used in various experiments.

Waguespack said hands-on activities that incorporate everyday phenomena help students connect and discover scientific concepts. Students learn best when they are fully engaged in an investigation and when they are able to collaborate with their peers.

“Students themselves are a powerful tool in helping each other construct scientific concepts on their own,” she said.

As a teacher, Waguespack believes it is her job to expose student misconceptions and provide opportunities for students to correct their thinking, while helping students become more analytical thinkers. Waguespack’s current lab is shared between sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. It is equipped with basic lab equipment and materials such as microscopes, triple beam balances, thermometers, and other material to help engage students. Teachers would like to bring some aspects of the lab into the digital age, so that students can experience aspects of real-world science. Also, an upgrade would provide each grade level with more available resources that can enhance the science lessons.

The Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge offers prize packages for one elementary ($10,000), one middle ($10,000) and one high school ($15,000) near Shell assets. Winning schools near Shell assets receive science lab materials to improve science education, and science teachers receive professional development to improve their content knowledge and instructional practices to inspire more students to pursue S.T.E.M. careers.

“We’re trying to prepare them to think about science, math and technology … the sky is the limit.” — Lauren Waguespack

Rochelle Touchard, external relations manager of Shell Louisiana/Alabama Manufacturing, said, in Shell’s ongoing efforts to provide more robust and innovative science education and lab experiences in schools near their assets, the company partnered with the NTSA to award science lab curriculum, materials and professional development to schools and science teachers that best demonstrated their ability to improve science achievement for students.

“At Shell, we believe that learning and innovation go hand in hand,” Touchard said. “By providing further resources, this challenge helps support innovation as well as foster student excitement about science at an early age.”

To enter the challenge, K-12 science teachers in select school districts near Shell assets were asked to describe their school’s current laboratory resources, explain why laboratory upgrade support is needed, and describe their approach to science education instruction utilizing their school’s current lab facilities. A panel of science educators then reviewed and selected the top entries.

“These science teachers are model educators for teachers across the country,” said Dr. David Evans, NSTA Executive Director. “We are thrilled to honor all of them for their creativity, resourcefulness, and commitment to their students and quality science teaching.”

The prize package

  • Designation as an “NSTA/Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge Winner,” school banner and certificate.
  • One year NSTA membership for one teacher.
  • Registration for one teacher to attend the S.T.E.M Forum.
  • Recognition and attendance at the Shell Science Lab Regional Challenge luncheon at the S.T.E.M. Forum.
  • NSTA Learning Center subscription.
  • For the elementary and middle school regional winners, a $10,000 gift certificate outfitted by Carolina Biological materials/equipment, schools must select at least one Smithsonian curriculum kit.
  • For the high school regional winners, a $15,000 gift certificate outfitted by Carolina Biological Supply Co. to purchase science/lab equipment and science education resource books through their company.
  • $1,200 for expenses for one teacher to attend the S.T.E.M. Forum in San Francisco.
  • All attending teachers will be able to attend professional development sessions throughout the S.T.E.M. Forum.
About Anna Thibodeaux 1967 Articles
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