March 17, 2010

Middle School science teacher in running for national award


— By

News Assistant

Students, parents and fellow faculty members have praised Biddeford Middle School Grade 8 science teacher Barbara Fortier for her innovative teaching style. Soon, she may receive an appreciative nod from President George W. Bush.

Fortier is in the running to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science. She is one of three Maine educators to be considered for the honor, annually given to one teacher from each of the 50 states plus the U.S. territories. The school's Spanish teacher, Tom Seferes, nominated her for the award.

''This is the highest award that a math or science teacher can get in this country,'' said Fortier. ''I was totally amazed by the comments made by our principal, assistant principal and parents of former students. It was definitely a boost to hear all these positive things people had to say about me.

''I'm the kind of teacher who is always trying to find ways to make what I do in the classroom better to inspire students and finding more creative ways for them to show me what they've learned in the classroom and prepare them for high school. It's important for them to learn to write out the conclusions they learn from their experiments in a clear way, to explain their results, using data to support the evidence.''

Fortier said science is her passion and that she's a lifelong advocate for learning, whether she is asking students to prove data they've gathered for class work or conducting an off-the-cuff experiment to determine the origins of tidal sediment during an after-school cycling club trip to the beach.

A 1985 Biddeford High School graduate, Fortier has taught for nine years and has been at the middle school since 2002.

She has been instrumental in promoting programming that partners students with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to enhance their studies, earning a three-year federal grant for the school in 2004 and status as a NASA Explorer program school. She personally attended NASA space camp in 2005 along with 100 teachers from around the world.

''We do a few hands-on projects each year using online data available through NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,'' said Fortier, who also takes cues from her pupils. Her class recently completed a student inspired science project to build small scale roller coasters that followed a set of required elements but encouraged innovation in design. The teens built 46 coasters, each unique in construction and theme. Such sessions provide the framework for problem solving by getting kids to compare notes about their experiments.

''It's really about having (students) ask questions,'' said Fortier. ''I don't just stand there and lecture. I'm giving them a question to have them talk about it and come up with an answer, making them curious and guiding them to seek the answers.''

As part of the application process to be considered for the award, Fortier submitted videotaped examples of her teaching style, including students discussing their findings or observations on science studies in class.

In addition to receiving a commendation from the President, award winners each will receive a free trip to Washington, D.C., personal educational opportunities and a $10,000 cash award. Fortier is likely use the money to pay off her student loans. ''I'm trying to finish my masters in geo-sciences,'' she said.

News Assistant Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 282-8228 or at:

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