Steamboat teacher of the year makes math, science come alive | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat teacher of the year makes math, science come alive

Steamboat Springs Middle School sixth-grade math and science teacher Bennett Colvin accepts the school district's district-wide Educator of the Year award from School Board President Joey Andrew.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Tent campers in Northwest Colorado are familiar with the head scratching that comes along with pitching a new tent for the first time. 

It can take several attempts to get the hang of which clips to connect to the poles in the right order. But when it finally comes together, a cleverly designed tent, and its ability to provide a secure and roomy shelter that fits into a stuff sack, is something to marvel at.

It's that kind of "ah-ha" moment that Steamboat Springs School District "Educator of the Year" Bennett Colvin strives to instill in his sixth-grade math and science students.

The key to engaging sixth-graders, Colvin said, is to provide them with hands-on, real-world exercises that capture their imaginations. Workbooks filled with equations to solve won't do the trick.

"A lot of people shut down on math if you don't make it fun,” Colvin said. “Science-wise, one of the things I like to do, is to allow them to play with materials and figure things out."

A Steamboat community member who excels at figuring things out is Big Agnes tent designer Will McElwain.

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"I brought Will in, and he showed (the students) the entire tent design process. How better is that than doing a worksheet?" Colvin asked. "Will talked about all the math that is used (in designing a new lightweight tent.) They wanted to learn more math that allowed them to make better tents."

His sixth-graders were quickly drawn in by the real world challenges of tent design, and once they become that engaged, Colvin said the mathematic and scientific principles naturally follow.

As an added bonus, any behavioral problems that come along with adolescence fall to the wayside when his students are intrigued by the subject matter.

"You rarely get behavioral issues when you set (lessons) up right," he said.

That's part of the reason that Colvin designs all of his own lessons plans from scratch.

His colleague, eighth-grade math and science teacher Dan Brabec, said he knows firsthand how effective Colvin's teaching methods are.

"I'm blessed to have had a daughter who had Bennett as her teacher a few years ago," Brabec said. "I got a glimpse (of his teaching style) from the enthusiasm she brought home."

Brabec was one of Colvin's colleagues who wrote letters of recommendations supporting him as a candidate for district-wide teacher of the year. 

"He did a lot to bring science to the forefront at the sixth-grade level," Brabec said. "Prior to that, there was a lot of focus on math. After he started teaching sixth grade, we saw huge shifts in the students coming into eighth grade. They were at a higher level."

Colvin also emphasizes the biological side of science. The local chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers, has generously provide "River Watch" equipment to allow his students to become hands-on with water quality science — a lesson plan Colvin designed to help his students understand how delicate aquatic environments can be.

"They create their own ecosystem in a jar (filled with water), aquatic plants and fish," Colvin said.

After adding foreign substances to the mini ecosystem, they measure water quality and record changes.

"If you can view math and science through a different lens so that kids can see it, I think it's when really good stuff happens," Colvin added.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1.

Educators of the year nominees

Other nominees for Steamboat Springs School District’s “Educator of the Year” award included:

• Deirdre Mewborn, kindergarten teacher, Soda Creek Elementary School

• Anna White, Title 1 teacher,  Strawberry Park Elementary School

• Morgan Kraska, art teacher and yearbook adviser, Steamboat Springs High School