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Gary Koppelman named Science Teacher of the Year by Linda Hass


ary Koppelman has always been intrigued by nature, from the worms wiggling in the ground to the ripe purple grapes growing on his grandfather’s farm. Earning a bachelor’s degree in science and master’s in education from Eastern

Michigan University helped to transform that natural sense of wonder into a powerful teaching presence that has inspired his students, school and community for four decades. Koppelman’s exemplary classroom teaching also has

earned him national renown. Tis spring, the devoted fiſth- grade teacher at Blissfield Community Schools was honored as Science Teacher of the Year by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Te association chose Koppelman, 61, from among

three semifinalists for the coveted 2013 National Shell Science Teaching Award and presented it to him at the NSTA National Conference on Science Education last April in San Antonio, Texas. He also received a $10,000 cash prize. “I’m ecstatic about receiving an award for doing

something that I truly love to do,” says Koppelman (BS73, MA79), who teaches science in the elementary school’s 2,400-square-foot Blissfield Environmental Lab (BELL) that he envisioned and developed. Part of the award belongs to Eastern, he adds.

Hands-on, Mind-on “Eastern is at the front lines when it comes to science

education and I benefited from that. I atribute my hands- on, mind-on approach and my emphasis on creativity to teaching method classes at Eastern,” he says. “Solutions for complex problems are found when we think creatively. Logic will take us from A to B, but creativity will take us everywhere.” Te innovative lab—the only one of its kind in the

nation among public elementary schools—is separated into biomes, such as the tropical biome where students can see and touch exotic creatures like “Rosy,” the rose-haired tarantula, he says. Te lab also contains an arboretum and terrarium furnished with a freshwater stream/pond, buterfly house, saltwater ecosystem, aviary, herpetological area and invertebrate zoo. It is powered in part by green energy—wind and solar power. Te lab’s impact can be seen in test scores. According

Photograph by Cara Jones

to results of statewide testing in 2010, 86.4 percent of Blissfield’s fiſth graders met or exceeded expectations in science compared with 78 percent statewide. “Hands-on learning makes a difference,” says Koppelman, adding that science skills will be especially vital in the future. “It will be up to the next generation of science innovators to help meet future energy needs,” he says. Such forward thinking was not a part of Koppelman’s

mindset when he was a youth in school, he says. “Growing up, I never seemed to measure up to those around me. High school was difficult because of various learning disabilities I didn’t know I had. I didn’t do well in many of my classes, so I never thought college was an option.”

The EMU Difference But one of his teachers—an Eastern Michigan University

graduate—recognized his love of science, and encouraged him to consider Eastern because of its exemplary programs and support services. Koppelman followed his advice, applied for admission and was pleasantly surprised when he was accepted. It was a life-changing choice. Koppelman followed

his bachelor’s degree in science with a master’s degree in education. In the process, an EMU professor discovered his learning disability. “Te professor required the class to come into her office

to phonically read a list of nonsense words,” he says. “As I went through the list, she asked me to repeat several words and discovered I had dyslexia and an auditory discrimination problem.” Te professor gave him several strategies and tools to overcome his disability, and the rest is history. “Winning the 2013 National Shell Science Teaching

Award is an experience that has given me renewed passion to help students overcome their challenges and obstacles and excel in science,” Koppelman says. It is a winning combination of qualities, according to

David Evans, NSTA executive director. “Science teachers do a lot more than just teach—they inspire. Gary Koppelman is a shining example of this,” he says. “He showcases everything that is outstanding in a quality science teacher. On behalf of NSTA, I offer my congratulations and thanks to Mr. Koppelman for his dedication to excellence in science education and the ingenuity, inspiration and world- class education he provides to his students every day.”3

Eastern | FALL 2013 23

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