Steamboat Springs It takes a special kind of teacher to compare a tiny organism to a heavenly vision.
Preparing her students for a lab session Friday, Steamboat Springs High School science teacher Cindy Gay gave a simple reason for her students to use a thick fluid while examining paramecia -- one-cell, freshwater organisms -- under microscopes.
"A paramecium in water would look like what you thought might be a shooting star, out of the corner of your eye at night," Gay said, showing students a fluid called 'Detain.' "We need to slow them down. Detain for a paramecium is like you trying to swim through pudding."
The colorful imagery and similes are part of what makes Gay a nationally recognized educator. A science teacher at the high school since 1998, Gay won a Presidential Award in 2000 that earned her an audience with President Bush.
Two weeks ago, Gay was honored again.
Amgen, a Fortune 500 biotechnology company based in California, named Gay as one of 19 recipients nationally of a 2006 Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence. Gay is one of two Colorado teachers to win the award, which Amgen says it gives to teachers who inspire their students and foster the next generation of scientists.
Gay will receive a $5,000 cash award. The high school also will receive $5,000 from Amgen for the development of science programs -- money that Gay plans to use for classroom biotechnology equipment and the creation of an outdoor classroom on land behind the school.
At an April 17 meeting of the Steamboat Springs School Board, high school Principal Mike Knezevich praised Gay not only for the achievement, but also for her ability to share the joys of a challenging subject with students.
"All you have to do is walk into Cindy's classroom, and you love science," Knezevich said.
That love was palpable Friday, as Gay bounced from one microscope to another, helping sophomore biologists locate paramecium that -- even in a pudding-thick solution -- proved elusive.
"No, that would be a chunk of dirt," Gay said as she checked a hopeful student's findings. "And those would be some of the finest air bubbles I've seen in a long time. ... But wait! Wait! We have a winner! Look quick, before he swims away!"
The exercise was preparation for an experiment that students will begin after spring break, Gay said. As part of a unit on evolution, students will used dyed yeast particles -- "a country buffet for paramecium," Gay said -- to track a paramecium's digestion.
"They're going to have to design an experiment that will change the (paramecium's) environment and affect how much it eats," Gay said. "Students learn more when they're engaged in designing their own experiment."
Gay said the experiment will tie in with lessons she gave the sophomore biology class in September.
"We've been telling one great story all year," she said. "Which is pretty cool -- it's the story of life."