Arlington educator receives science teacher of the year award

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ARLINGTON — A hydraulic flamingo, popsicle-stick bridge models and a robotic hand are just a few of the projects on display in Karen Schroeder's classroom at Arlington Memorial High School.

That ties in to her teaching philosophy, which is "project-based and hands-on," she said. Students remember that kind of learning much better than lectures.

"You start throwing around a bowling ball, they're going to remember ... what [Isaac] Newton's first law is," said Schroeder, a middle and high school science teacher.

Schroeder recently received the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering's award for science teacher of the year, which honors Vermont teachers who serve as role models for their colleagues and are leaders in the improvement of science education. VASE gives one annual award to teachers of kindergarten through eighth grade and one for teachers of ninth through 12th grade.

Schroeder was nominated by Ann Sulzmann, then a teacher at AMHS, and formally received the award at a VASE banquet at Middlebury College in October.

After getting the award, she soon began to think about how it could lead to more resources for her school.

"I was like, 'Hey, they just gave me this award — I should probably apply for a grant,'" she said. She applied for VASE's small equipment grants program in October, and was awarded $800.

Schroeder plans to use the funds for materials for robotics and other class projects, particularly lightweight building materials like aluminum. Other building materials tend to be used up in one project, but materials like aluminum can be re-used, she said.

Schroeder said she's received grants and scholarships over the years, but this is her first teaching award.

The awards shows that people appreciate STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — and realize how important it is to the world, Schroeder said.

"Knowing how things work, [like] how a motor works," she said. "These are all really good concepts for students to understand."

And if they're introduced to science in the middle grades, they begin to understand that this could be a career for them.

Schroeder particularly enjoys teaching physics — things like simple machines and the laws of motion. "Physics is like a little set of puzzles," she said. "Almost little games. If you know how physics work, the world makes sense."

Originally from upstate New York, Schroeder worked for a large water department in Colorado for about 11 years before she began teaching, after she and her husband moved to Southern Vermont.

This is Schroeder's ninth year teaching. She also coaches the robotics club. All her classes are integrated science classes, incorporating chemistry, physical science and life science.

"Science is so varied," she said. "There's just so many topics. And being able to teach so many grades, I get to teach so many topics. And I really enjoy that."

On one day this week, her students were learning about volcanoes in one class, momentum in another and sound waves in yet another.

"And one class is [also] finishing up a project on climate change," she said. "So that was just today."

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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