An exceptional teacher in the Fort Osage School District may have the chance to be recognized by President Barack Obama next year.
Allen Winningham, a fourth grade teacher at Cler-Mont Elementary School, was selected as a state finalist for this year’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science. According to the PAEMST website, they are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science – including computer science.
Winningham was one of the five finalists in Missouri to be a candidate for the state Presidential Award. A teacher from each of the 50 states, as well as four U.S. jurisdictions, will be selected as an awardee and fly to Washington, D.C., sometime next year to attend education workshops and visit with the President.
“It’s really a great honor,” Winningham said about being a state-level finalist. “I’m excited. Science is my passion.”
His wife, Kristina Winningham, who is also a science teacher at Osage Trail Middle School, said she stumbled upon a PAEMST post on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standard’s Facebook page and encouraged her husband to submit an application for the award.
“It’s the extra effort that he puts into teaching,” she said about her husband. “We had a summer school with our children and nieces this summer and watching how he teaches is just awesome. It was something I didn’t have the chance to see since I’m teaching as well.”
To be in consideration for a state-level finalist, Allen had to submit a video recording of himself instructing his class, plus write several essays and be assessed on his mastery of science content. He started applying in February.
“It was almost like applying for the National Board Certification,” Kristina added about her husband’s application process.
Allen, now in his 19th year of teaching, said his teaching philosophy is to provide students with enough information to know what they’re doing in a science experiment and let them explore.
“Once they (students) have enough information, they have this amazing ability to take their curiosity to the next level.”
He said this approach to teaching ties in with the scientific method.
“I want them (students) to have a good foundation. Younger kids sometimes think they know how things work, but you have to correct a lot of their misconceptions.”
With this kind of teaching philosophy, Allen also said he incorporates a lot of interactive experiments in his lessons. “They (students) love that stuff.”
For instance, the video recording for portion of the application was of Allen and his class learning about ecosystems at Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area in Blue Springs. His class visits the nature preserve every spring and fall through a grant with the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“Students get the chance to explore and track wildlife. It is fun for them. Some of them hardly go out to the woods,” he said.
Allen also said he and another teacher were part of the pilot program for the Kansas City Zoo’s “ZooED,” where they were one of the first fourth grade classrooms to implement a unique science and nature curriculum. “The program is basically where kids pretend they are a zoo employee by doing different jobs and scenarios. They deal with all kinds of math and also build their own ecosystem.”
The Cler-Mont teacher, along with the other four PAEMST state finalists, will be honored at the 2015 Interface Professional Development Event Feb. 19-21 at the Tan-Tar-A Resort and Spa in Osage Beach, Missouri.