Howells Earns Presidential Award for Excellence

One of the most popular summer day camps at Wheeling Country Day School is Margie Howells’ Creek Week, during which children learn about the ecosytem of Long Run under the guise of splashing around to keep cool in the summer heat.

The creek that borders the Wheeling Country Day campus to the south also is the subject of place-based lessons in Howells’ third-grade class during the school year. Those lessons, combined with her teaching philosophy and dedication to her students, recently earned Howells the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching.

After receiving three finalists in science and three in math from each state, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy chooses only one from each discipline for the honor.

The award is the highest honor K-12 math and science teachers can receive from the federal government. It is only awarded after a rigorous application process that requires demonstration of content mastery as well as an ability to adapt to a variety of unique learners and learning environments.

“Margie inspires children to think differently,” Liz Hofreuter, WCDS head, said. “Under her guidance, they transform into mathematicians and scientists in the third grade. In her class, children find a spark for education that develops the intrinsic motivation vital to true learning.”

Howells was in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to accept the award and take part in a national STEM strategic plan summit, during which government leaders met with the nation’s top science and math teachers to assess the current STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) strategic plan and offer input on the next five-year plan that begins in 2019.

“It was pretty neat to be part of having a voice in what’s coming up. It’s a great honor,” Howells said. She also got to tour the National Science Foundation and the White House.

This year’s awards honored kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers who applied in 2016. On alternating years, seventh- through 12th-grade teachers are honored.

Howells said she filled out an “extensive application,” and provided a video of herself teaching a lesson on Long Run.

“I was teaching about water pollution and specifically how erosion and runoff can cause our streams to be polluted,” she said. The lesson also focused on the riparian zone of the creek, which is the natural vegetation that helps filter the water that comes into the creek.

The creek lessons are a good example of place-based learning, Howells said, in which teachers use the immediate surroundings to teach about subjects and concepts in order to connect better with the students.

“You are using your own immediate envornment to teach things that the kids can get right down and see. … It’s a big push, in particular in science education, using experiences rather than a textbook,” Howells said. It helps the material “sink in” with the students, and “the kids kind of own it because they are part of it.”

Howells was nominated to apply for the award by Kassie Edwards, a retired WCDS fourth-grade and science teacher who earned the same honor in 2004.