2014 STEM Educator Award Winners

A spotlight on the 2014 winners and highlights from their submissions.

From left to right: Jeffery Grant, Paul Stokstad (PASCO Founder), Benjamin McCombs, Daniel Sweet, Kenneth Huff, Terence McMahon, Bill Badders (NSTA President), and Dr. Dori Haggerty (previous PASCO National K-12 Education Manager)

View the application for the PASCO STEM Educator Awards

High School Winner


Jeffery Grant
Downers Grove North High School
Downers Grove, IL

For his four sections of AP* Biology, Mr. Grant has formed an ongoing partnership with the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. Mr. Grant and his students are collaborating with the arboretum on an NSF grant research project on the diversity of sedgesAs part of the project, students measure real herbarium specimens using manual microscopic instruments, as well as digital programs. The data is then incorporated into the Morton Arboretum database and redistributed to the students for analysis. Students then develop scatter plots of a species of their own choosing, using measurements that they think will give them new insight into their ecological diversity, evolution, and genetic similarities. Their final products must include their methods, findings, and justifications for their interpretation.

High School Winner

Daniel Sweet
John Jay Science & Engineering Academy
San Antonio, TX

Mr. Sweet’s Concepts of Engineering Technology course, which he helped design and teaches, is a requirement for all freshmen at Jay SEA. The two-semester course is designed to introduce students to STEM professionals in the real world. In the first semester, students choose a topic and complete one long-form, inquiry-based science project based on an authentic question, with Mr. Sweet acting as mentor and facilitator. The second semester introduces students to key engineering concepts, including robotics, surveying, electrical systems, structural systems, and programming through hands-on, technology-infused lessons. Each year, several CET projects are recognized in science competitions at the local, regional, state, national, and even international level. The course prepares students for the more rigorous college work and helps them develop important skills in time management, teamwork, and presentation abilities (essentials for any 21st century career).

Middle School Winner

Kenneth Huff
Mill Middle School
Williamsville, NY

In Mr. Huff’s interdisciplinary, inquiry-based project (Students Synthesizing Snow-data in Natural Objective Ways: SSSNOW), his grade 6 students use sensor-based data collection to analyze and interpret authentic winter weather data in the school courtyard. Mr. Huff addresses all levels of the learning spectrum because each student analyzes field-based data, and snow has a certain appeal for young people. Embedded throughout the SSSNOW project are students nonlinguistic representations in the form of concept maps, which delineate the integration of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. The concept maps have been especially helpful for special education students and English language learners who often have difficulty writing scientific conclusions. The SSSNOW project promotes the vision of the Next Generation Science Standards because students are engaged in learning about science through integration of disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts, and scientific and engineering practices.

Middle School Winner

Benjamin McCombs
Van Buren Middle School
Kettering, OH

One of Mr. McComb’s overarching goals is to have his students develop the skills to become life-long problem solvers. The units he teaches are all standards-based units that he has helped produce at the Dayton Regional STEM Center. The units are all topical and based on Engineering Design Challenges, which follow the design process through planning, building, testing, and improving. The nature of the units leads students to test initial designs to the point of failure, which helps them to use failure constructively and gives them a chance to engineer products better. Mr. McCombs says, “A redesign is always integral to our units so that we are scaffolding students efforts to reflect and enhance their designs, regardless of how good they might seem.” The curriculum Mr. McCombs designs and uses incorporates service learning at its core. Project topics range from building easily imported desks for students in countries that lack resources, to systems that lessen impact in fire escape situations. Students are encouraged to consider the needs of other people as they design products.

Elementary School Winner

Terence McMahon
Meadow Park Elementary School
West Palm Beach, FL

In Mr. McMahon’s Title I elementary school, 75% of the students receive free or reduced lunches. His goal for his grade 5 class is to provide an engaging and diverse learning environment for all of his students, which include ESE and ELL students, as well as regular and gifted students. In his classroom, he utilizes the latest in technology with hands-on, inquiry-based projects. One of Mr. McMahon’s foundation projects has students design and grow a garden. Incorporating science, technology, engineering, and math skills, the class creates a garden area and monitors everything using technologies such as iPads and iPod touches. They design the layout of the garden, prepare the soil, and plant seeds in the fall. The students’ favorite part is harvesting their crop and eating what they’ve grown, which is important because it allows them to understand why some foods are nutritionally better than others. Some of Mr. McMahon’s other projects include having students create a podcast addressing real-world problems, designing a solar oven cooker, and studying freshwater discharge in Lake Okeechobee.