Goldfish and guppies, water and wood, night crawlers and red worms. Those are just a few of the things students examine and explore in Jennifer Christianson’s kindergarten classroom at Ponderosa Elementary. They also learn about recycled paper by actually making their own.
“The students change toilet paper into a recycled piece of paper, by adding water into a container and shaking it into pulp,” said Christianson, who loves hands-on learning. “We press this new type of paper onto a screen. The paper then sets overnight and hardens.”
The next day Christianson and her students might try writing on the recycled paper to see if it is easy to write or draw on. They talk about whether the paper would be easy to fold. They make comparisons by drawing on and folding wax paper, construction paper, corrugated cardboard, tag board, newsprint and paper towels.
“Jen creates an educational environment where students are at the center of learning,” said Judy Bogart, a K-5 science coach for Cherry Creek Schools. “Jen allows the students the opportunities to explore and investigate science. They use the evidence from their learning to make meaning of science.”
That’s quite an accomplishment when working with a diverse class of five- and six-year-olds, some of whom speak Arabic, Mandinka, Russian, Somali and Twi, rather than English. It’s no wonder Christianson has been selected as one of two Colorado finalists for the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).
“Jennifer is very deserving of this award,” said Elizabeth Sloan, principal of Ponderosa Elementary. “She is excited and passionate about hands-on science. She inspires her students and many other educators in the district.”
In addition to being a full day kindergarten teacher, Christianson is also a district trainer in FOSS (Full Options Science Systems), the district’s science curriculum.
“As a FOSS trainer, Jen is dedicated to developing engaging, informative and purposeful science training to fellow kindergarten teachers in the district,” said Sarah Frederick, an instructional coach for Cherry Creek Schools. “She is passionate about her work and helping others.”
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is presented annually to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country. National winners will be selected next year by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians and educators. They will be invited to an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. and will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion.
Christianson says she is honored to be a Colorado finalist.
"This recognition was a collaborative effort by those who nominated me, an administration who supports my instructional practices, my colleagues who collectively plan lessons with me and my students who give me the opportunity to teach and interact with science concepts on a daily basis,” said Christianson. “I am honored to receive this recognition not only on the behalf of Cherry Creek Schools, but also for the state of Colorado."
Since 1983, more than 4,400 teachers have been recognized with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. Smoky Hill High School science teacher Mark Paricio was a Presidential Award recipient in 2015.