Middle school science teacher wins award
Published: April 16, 2007 | 6012th good news item since 2003
This week, Alisa Smits, life science teacher at Fremont Middle School, will help 108 seventh-graders dissect sheep eyes into various parts — cornea, lens, retina and all.
Ever the thrifty teacher, Smits uses ovine orbs.
“They’re cheaper than cow eyes,” she said. “You do what you can.”
Evidently, Smits can do a lot.
Now in her third year at FMS, she recently received the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award for New Teachers.
Simmons, a 1925 University of Rhode Island graduate, worked for many years as a science teacher. He and his wife, Antoinette Simmons, also a Rhode Island graduate, set up a planned-giving endowment in the 1970s. From that endowment, several scholarships are now drawn, including the national teaching award won by Smits.
The $1,000 prize paid her expenses to the National Conference on Science Education, held Saturday-Monday in St. Louis.
“It was great,” said Smits. “The exhibits, the hands-on technology. I brought home lots of ideas to incorporate in the classroom.”
And outside the classroom, too, it seems.
Monday afternoon found Smits and her students examining square-meter areas outside the FMS building. Each student has been assigned a space, Smits said, to observe existing flora now and predict what will happen later.
“Some of these kids don’t really know how things grow,” she said, noting students had suggested, upon examination, that the brown and dried weeds would turn green again.
Smits hopes to use the enthusiasm and skill that earned her the Simmons award to broaden the scope of her students’ scientific knowledge.
“I’ve always loved school,” she said. “I have a passion for learning. If you go to these conventions, if you learn one big thing for your classroom, it’s a huge success.”
Smits, 25, grew up in Omaha, graduated from Ashland-Greenwood High School and majored in natural sciences at Wayne State College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in education. She is now pursing a master’s degree in education in curriculum and instruction at Wayne State.
Smits said the human body is her favorite area of scientific study. The thought of becoming a doctor crossed her mind, but she decided against the field after considering the years of schooling required.
Then she chose a career that may lead to years of schooling, anyway.
Only this time, she’s the teacher.
“I like where I am now,” Smits said. “The atmosphere here is great. I student-taught here, so it was an easy transition.”
She also appreciates the nearby Johnson Lake, which provides a natural classroom for learning, something she says some districts cannot provide their students.
“They struggle as far as educational opportunities,” Smits said.
Lake or no lake, Smits has unique ways of teaching her life science classes.
Next year, she will help the seventh-graders plant Wisconsin Fast Seeds, radish-like plants which mature in 35 days, long enough to show students a complete cycle of plant life.
As a life science teacher, Smits said she doesn’t get to use what she calls the “toys and explosions” employed by chemistry and physics instructors.
But she does have a plan to make the seed project especially interesting.
The Fast Seeds kits come with frozen bees which the students can use to pollinate the flowers.
“That’s a definite hook for the kids,” Smits said. “To put a bee on a stick and pollinate.”