Teacher snares award for take-home kits

[attach]4508[/attach]The students in Tracey O’Toole’s grade 1 classroom at Whitney Public School are building bridges.

But they’re not the kind you can drive your car over. These youngsters haven’t made it to that point yet.

They’re starting off small by constructing a bridge made of straws for three plastic Billy goats — one of five take-home kits created by O’Toole that meld fairy tales and engineering.

“It’s a way to promote science, inquiry and literacy,” she said. “Students try to build a bridge to support these animals after reading a story, which they do with their family.”

A mother of two, O’Toole feels that family plays a significant role in a child’s academic endeavors.

“Studies have shown that students perform better in school when their parents are involved in their education,” the Rosedale resident said.

O’Toole’s kits have been so well received that she’s recently garnered recognition from Amgen, a large and independent North American biotech company.

Amgen Canada spokesperson Natasha Bond says that O’Toole was one of the strongest candidates for this year’s Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence.

The award grants O’Toole $5,000 with an additional $5,000 going to her school. The school plans to use its money to update their science and technology equipment.

“This award recognizes those exceptional teachers who really engage young people in science,” said Bond. “There are 34 awards distributed across North America, and only four of them are in Canada.”

Bond said that it was most likely O’Toole’s creative teaching techniques that drew the judges’ attention.

Thanks to O’Toole, students at Whitney Public School are encouraged to integrate their learning skills with an imaginative flair.

A few years ago, when her grade 5 students were going through a fleeting infatuation with the reality TV show, The Apprentice, O’Toole decided to use the idea of the series and incorporate it into a science and literacy curriculum.

“I wrote individual business letters addressed to their body parts from the Human Body Corporation,” O’Toole said. “As organs, they were the company’s employees. But due to recent cost increases, the human body had to fire workers.”

Her students were instructed to write letters to the human body, defending their significance in the company.

“The exercise really allowed the students to apply their knowledge of the human body as well as enhance their writing skills,” she said. “They had a lot of fun with it.”

However, O’Toole won’t be back to Whitney PS this fall as she’ll be off to enlighten and challenge another set of young minds at Runnymede Public School.