SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY EDUCATION: Presidential Award honors teachers of math and science

An outstanding science or math teacher can have a lifelong impact on young children or high school students, influencing their success in the classroom as well as their future career choices. To encourage excellence in teaching, Congress in 1983 established the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), which each year honors outstanding science and mathematics teachers from around the country. The program is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The award, the highest recognition that a mathematics or science teacher can receive for outstanding teaching in the United States, recognizes highly qualified K-12 teachers for their contributions to teaching and learning and their ability to help students make progress in mathematics and science. The competition alternates each year between teachers of kindergarten through sixth grade and teachers of seventh through 12th grade.

Awardees are selected from all 50 states and the four U.S. jurisdictions [Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; Department of Defense Schools; and the U.S. territories as a group (American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands)]. Two finalists can be selected from each area, for a total of up to 108 awards each year. The finalists are chosen through a two-stage review process. At the state level, local selection committees made up of prominent mathematicians, scientists, math and science educators and past winners select up to three finalists each from the math and science categories for recognition. The state finalists are evaluated by a selection committee convened by the NSF which recommends to the President of the United States a mathematics finalist and a science finalist from each state or jurisdiction.

Each honoree receives a $10,000 educational grant to be used at his or her discretion over a three-year period, plus an all-expense-paid trip for two to Washington, DC, to attend a weeklong series of recognition events and professional development opportunities. Winning teachers also receive a citation signed by the President of the United States and gifts from program sponsors around the country.

Ninety-nine educators were selected to receive the PAEMST award for 2007. The award winners were recognized on May 2, 2008, at an awards ceremony hosted by Dr. Arden Bement, director of the NSF, at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. In a citation from the President, they were commended "for embodying excellence in teaching, for devotion to the learning needs of the students, and for upholding the high standards that exemplify American education at its finest."

The OSA Foundation (OSAF) is one of the many organizations supporting the PAEMST through in-kind donations of educational materials for the winning teachers. OSAF provided the honorees with Optics: Light at Work, Laser Technology: Changing Daily Life, Forging New Opportunities [DVD]; the Optical Phenomena Poster Series; optical phenomena magnets and copies of Explore Optics magazine. Honorees were also offered free OSA Teacher Membership for one year.

"Helping to advance youth science education is one of the cornerstones of the foundation's mission, and there is no better way to achieve this than through honoring science teachers and providing them with the resources necessary to bring optics into their classrooms," said Meredith Smith, OSA Foundation director. "We look forward to continued support of the PAEMST and its honorees."

Since the program's inception 25 years ago, more than 3,700 teachers have received the award. Nominations for 2009 will open later this year.

The OSA Foundation, created in 2002, is dedicated to supporting programs that advance youth science education, provide optics education and resources to underserved populations, and provide career and professional development resources.

GRACE KLONOSKI is the senior director, foundation and the member and education services, for the Optical Society of America, 2010 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036; e-mail: gklono@osa.org; Web site: www.osa.org.

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