Athens, Ga. – Two University of Georgia education alumni-one teaching in Georgia and another in Nevada-were among only 103 teachers across the nation to receive a 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Rachael Parr (B.S.Ed. ’85), a 14-year teacher of life science at East Jackson Middle School in Commerce, was the science award winner from Georgia, and Michael Patterson (M.Ed. ’98), who teaches geometry and trigonometry at Advanced Technologies Academy in Las Vegas, was the math award winner from Nevada.
The Presidential Award, one of the nation’s highest honors for teachers, is given annually to the best pre-collegiate-level science and mathematics teachers from across the country. Two winners from each state are selected by a panel of scientists, mathematicians and educators following an initial selection process done at the state level.
Each year the award alternates between math and science educators teaching kindergarten through 6th grade, and those teaching 7th through 12th grades.
Winners of the presidential honor receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation to be used at their discretion. They also receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony and several days of educational and celebratory events, including visits with members of Congress and science agency leaders.
Patterson, who earned his master’s degree in mathematics education from UGA, was also one of only 80 educators in the nation to receive a 2009-10 Milken National Educator Award, which included an unrestricted cash prize of $25,000.
The Milken Foundation recognized Patterson for his special efforts in engaging students to learn mathematics. Patterson integrates technology into the classroom through the use of Geometer’s Sketchpad and a website he created, e-zgeometry.com. These technologies are used to reinforce concepts and provide support for struggling students. Since he created e-zgeometry.com in 1999, it has grown into a nationally recognized site, with thousands of student users, which features interactive videos, glossary images, lesson notes, learning games and a problem of the day. He now teaches a specialized course for interested students to get behind the scenes of the website and learn how to maintain it and add new content daily.
Parr, who earned her bachelor’s degree in middle school education from UGA, has been a science educator in Jackson County Schools for 24 years.
The national award, Parr said, highlights the great educational practices and learning in the Jackson County School System.
“It validates, to me, my passion, commitment and dedication to the education profession,” she said.
Parr’s passion for education exceeds the classroom. She currently serves as the Science Curriculum Leader and as the Science Representative for the Leadership Planning and Evaluation Team for Math and Science Partnership. Her action research and leadership led to the schoolwide implementation of student-led conferencing.
She has served on the State of Georgia Advisory Committee and the Georgia Learning Resource Advisory Committee. She also served as a Georgia Virtual School Curriculum Evaluator.
A Jackson County School System Teacher of the Year and Georgia’s top-named science educator in 2006, Parr said she encourages her students to discover their world.
“I try to make every day a ‘Wow’ day,” said Parr, who earned her National Board Certification in early adolescence science in 2003.
That’s exactly what Parr did when she took a deep-ocean dive in a research submersible vehicle to study hydrothermal vents off the coast of Washington state. Parr was one of three educators accompanying UGA oceanographer Daniela Di Iorio on the 2008 trip on the research vessel Atlantis.
The research trip was recently highlighted in an article published in The Science Teacher, a professional journal for science educators. Parr co-wrote the article with her fellow educators-turned-researchers Vicki Soutar, a teacher at Oconee County High School and Ron Prescott, a teacher at Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
The 22-day trip was funded by a grant from the NSF. Parr made the ocean journey into a virtual classroom lesson for her students.
“It was a wonderful learning experience for me,” she said. “I blogged to the kids every day. I wrote to them about what was going on and the types of research that was being conducted.”
Parr’s students also have learned first-hand about coastal ecosystems-as she has coordinated a three-day trip to St. Simon’s Island for seventh graders for the past 12 years.
Parr continues to improve her own education. This summer, she graduated from the Rising Stars Collaborative program, a performance-based initiative that prepares selected educators for leadership roles.
Parr said she gets her love for teaching science from her parents. Her father was a longtime research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her mother was a teacher.