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Ingomar teacher chosen as fellow in New Science Teacher Academy

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:02 p.m.

Students in the Life Science classes of Heath Gamache don't just learn in the classroom but all over the school property.

That enthusiasm is one reason Gamache, a seventh-grade teacher at Ingomar Middle School, was chosen as a fellow in the 2012-13 New Science Teacher Academy.

“I'm always looking for ways to make a real-world connection to some of the more theoretical-based content in our textbook,” said Gamache, 41, of McCandless.

A professional-development initiative by the National Science Teachers Association, each fellow receives a membership package, online mentoring and opportunities to participate in Web-based professional-development activities.

“It's something to apply in the classroom and helps evaluate your own teaching,” Gamache said.

In his five years at Ingomar Middle School, Gamache has established a school garden and compost pile. He also taps the maple trees on school property to make maple sugar and teach students how trees and plants change during the seasons.

Gamache even served vegetables from the school garden to parents during an open house a few years ago, Ingomar Middle School Principal Heidi Stark said.

“He (Gamache) keeps pushing us all in different ways and challenges everyone to think about authentic ways to learn science,” said Stark, of Bradford Woods.

Enthusiasm for teaching science is the biggest quality the NSTA looks for when choosing fellows, said Damaries Blondonville, assistant executive director of professional development the organization in Arlington, Va.

More than 700 applications nationwide were received for the 2012-13 academy, and only 251 teachers were chosen, Blondonville said.

“This is a really dynamic group,” Blondonville said. “Technology is becoming the norm for all levels of learning, so this group is more apt to engage with high-tech models of communication.”

Gamache previously worked for the Lutherlyn Environmental Education Program in Prospect, Butler County, for 10 years as assistant director of environmental education. Many students visit Lutherlyn on field trips, so Gamache worked with as many as 6,000 students each year. He said he then decided he wanted to teach students on a more long-term basis.

Since Gamache found out he was named a fellow, he has learned more about inquiry-based learning and the formative assessment of student knowledge in his web-based exploration groups.

“I think more about the structure of my day-to-day lessons and what activities are being included,” Gamache said, “and if what I'm doing in the classroom is more student-focused or student-led.”

Since the program started in 2007, academy participants have gone on to become mentors at their schools, but more than anything, the program helps build confidence, Blondonville said.

“You get an opportunity to grow with ... other teachers who are all at the same phase in their careers,” Blondonville said. “You get to talk about classroom issues with other teachers and really become a leader in science education.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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