Nathanial Sexton (left) receives help from Earth science teacher Tina
Social studies middle school teacher Denise Trudell prepares her seventh-grade students for another round of their own version of “Jeopardy!”
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – Roosevelt High School science teacher Tina Weller and Wilson Middle School social studies teacher Denise Trudell recently received Teacher of the Year honors for their grade levels from the Wayne Regional Educational Service Agency.
Also honored was Mary McFarlane, Roosevelt principal, as 2010 Wayne RESA Administrator of the Year.
The two teachers were chosen from all eligible teachers in their respective categories within Wayne County, excluding Detroit, which is judged separately. The region includes 34 school districts, 500 schools and 18,000 teachers.
Winners were named June 1 and are selected for their ability to combine several elements, including making learning both effective and appealing; engaging students in and outside the classroom; and sponsor activities that help make a difference in students’ lives.
Students say such teachers just “make learning fun,” whether through the innovative use of technology or simply capturing their imagination with an impassioned classroom lecture.
Whether she’s throwing a Party with the Stars for elementary age students in the high school planetarium, sending high school students on a photographic scavenger hunt around town or introducing her severe weather curricula to a state educators symposium, Weller’s always been looking for innovative ways to teach Earth science during her 10 years at Roosevelt.
Weller believes that to be successful, teaching methods must reflect how students learn.
“Today, students live in a technological world, where an effective learning environment must match their social environment,” she said. “To keep students tuned in, I feel a need to connect learning to the future they see before them.”
Weller tries to tie Earth science lessons to real-world situations. She uses digital-media resources to promote student teamwork and improve individual achievement, but isn’t afraid to go lower tech.
One of her students created a human model of the atmospheric layers on the school football field.
Weller also tries to display her students’ cross-curricular talent in projects, whether creating “edible fossils,” commercials for endangered species, exploring constellation mythology, a severe weather video or writing a rock cycle rap.
She developed the high school’s honors Earth science program and has taught all three levels over the past five years. The program helps students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that help prepare them for higher-level science classes.
Weller has taken over 200 ninth-grade girls to seminars exploring careers for girls in math and science sponsored by the Birmingham American Association of University Women, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Detroit Country Day School.
She sponsors the school’s science club, which has over 40 active members, and has enlisted students’ help in fulfilling the Green School Initiative by instituting environmentally sound practices throughout the campus. Her students also have traveled to the Science Olympiad at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and to the Friends of the Rouge River water monitoring day.
Weller has helped plan the school’s planetarium technology updates, and used the planetarium to introduce preschoolers through ninth-graders, as well as Boy Scouts, to the wonders of the universe. High school seniors are treated to a planetarium show during their all-night party at Roosevelt.
Weller tries to use online technology as much as possible to relate learning to the students’ world.
“You have to relate to them in the way that their social life is arranged,” she said. “Everything that I show them is vivid and graphic, and I have stories that go along with it. I tie it in to their real work, like their future, like things that they could do when they leave this building, or things that they might encounter in the day outside.”
Her students go outside the building to look at the effects of weathering and have been assigned to shoot weather videos as part of learning to make forecasts. Weller also was chosen by the Michigan Department of Education to produce a professional video of her class activities focusing on severe weather.
When a seventh-grade student compares a test-taking experience in Trudell’s social studies class at Wilson Middle School to “jeopardy,” they’re not referring to risk, but rather her testing method, which is similar to the television game show of the same name.
During a test June 8, students clicked a hand-held remote to enter their multiple choice responses to questions shown on an overhead screen. As soon as the answers were logged in, the students found out which ones were correct, how many students got it right and how they did.
The program, called “Turning Point,” is from Microsoft PowerPoint. Each student has a clicker registered in their name to record their individual responses. Each student can receive their test score as soon as they are finished with the exam.
While it may seem like fun and games, her drills and learning methods helped get seventh-grader Sebastian Skinner to the regional level of the state geography bee, a feat he accomplished by answering more correct questions than 1,030 other students in his district. Sebastian seemed equally proud of besting six eighth-graders from his own school for the honor of competing at the regional level.
He explains his sudden interest in geography with unvarnished youthful candor: “She’s the only good teacher.”
Tyler Fugate, another seventh-grade student, finds the class appealing because he’s interested in history and hopes to teach it someday. He felt that the “Jeopardy” style of answering questions with his remote hand-held clicker device was the coolest part of the class.
Seventh-grader Noah Gilliam appreciates the way Trudell doesn’t talk down to students.
“She doesn’t talk to you like you’re 5 years old,” he said. “She gives you honest responses and she’s really friendly when you talk to her. It’s not like, ‘Oh, hi – sit down and shut up.’”
Noah’s comment drew the appreciative laughter of his classmates.
Seventh-grader Briana Tully was equally honest.
“In the beginning of the year I hated social studies,” she sad. “I did not like it at all and it was my least favorite subject. Ms. Trudell has taught me it’s really not that bad. I actually kind of like it now.”
Brianna admitted she never did well on the traditional-style social studies test, and says the “Jeopardy”-style test make it easy. She also appreciates the way Trudell will listen to a student’s problems.
Trudell has been teaching in Wyandotte for 18 years, and has taught fifth through eighth grade. She spent six years teaching fifth and sixth grades at Garfield Elementary and has been at Wilson Middle School for the past 12 years. At the latter she taught eighth-grade science for one year and seventh-grade social studies for 11 years.
She teaches her seventh-grade social studies students the geography, history, economies and civics of the Eastern Hemisphere. She also focuses on the government and civics of different countries, on the problems Eastern Hemisphere countries have, and how the United States has had an impact on those situations.
Fellow teachers nominated her for the RESA award, she believes, because she tries to make social studies as fun as possible. Her game showlike testing appeals to the age group.
“I try to take their short attention span and liking to control things and doing several things at once,” Trudell said. “We’ve done crazy things like holding a funeral for the Roman Empire, and all the causes of the fall of the Roman Empire came to class as people.”
The class listened to the clues and had to figure out “whodunit” by following clues to determine the cause or causes of the Roman Empire’s decline.
“(I try) doing strange things like that with information, and try to make it as hands on and silly as possible,” Trudell said. “I tell the students if I have to do something five times in one day – because I teach the class five times – I don’t want it to be boring, because I don’t want to be bored. So anything I do I try as much as possible to make it enjoyable.”
The “neat thing” about her job is doing something different every day.
“I tell my students that even on the worst day, when everything has been going wrong, I leave this building loving my job,” Trudell said.
She herself was inspired by teachers who made classes entertaining even if they were intensive classes that presented a lot of material.
She understands the challenge of teaching a Twittering, texting, constantly online Facebook generation.
“They want to be moving on and doing something else and everything has to be very quick paced that I try to adjust my teaching to that,” Trudell said. “I also know that they have to be able to concentrate for a period of time doing certain things (like) being able to read for a certain period of time. I try to balance that out.”
Technology also has had its downside, she said. Students using cell phones to text has become one of her biggest discipline issues; they also use them to record people and threaten other students. Trudell’s response is a zero-tolerance policy for cell phones, purses or backpacks in class.
But even with that policy, she hopes students will take with them a sense that she cared for each one of them, as well as a love for social studies.