Greenfield teacher gets national award: Lesson plans emphasize hands-on learning

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For Monday’s lesson in science, third graders in Covey Denton’s class pretended to be a pancreas.

With hands gloved and eyes goggled, students used syringes to simulate regulation of blood sugar levels and insulin levels for Fred the Flask, Frank the Flask and Felicity the Flask.

“If my blood is purple, that means my blood is perfect, perfect purple,” Denton told the children. “If my flask goes any other color, I am going to start feeling pretty lousy, so our job as our pancreas is to keep ourselves at perfect purple where we are feeling primo.”

Monday’s lesson is the kind of hands-on activity that’s a regular part of the lesson plans in Denton’s class.

Denton, a science teacher at Greenfield School, is the recipient of the Sylvia Shrugrue Award. The award honors one elementary school teacher in the country each year.

Denton pointed to a well-thought-out lesson plan as possibly the reason she was recognized.

“You had to submit that and show that it was cross-curricular and that it really was the kids doing the science and not the direct teaching,” Denton said.

Science education is now moving away from memorizing words and definitions where students are regurgitating everything, she said.

The new approach favors more exploration.

“I think the more senses you engage, the more meaningful it is to them, and when they can tie it into their own experiences and their own curiosity, it just sticks, and it makes them feel like real scientists,” Denton said. “When they get a taste of that discovery, that excitement of figuring out the puzzle, you sort of whet their appetite, and they just want more and more and more. So I think it is really a way of getting kids enthusiastic about their own learning. Memorizing definitions is not that interesting.”

Denton said children these days are a little bit one-dimensional.

“A lot of them are on screens so much that they are just used to seeing it, and they are very visual,” Denton said. “When you are able to incorporate other senses like get the smells and get their hands dirty and get them to actually be experiencing the science, it just triggers parts in their brain that they are not using on a regular basis, so I think they get really excited.”

Denton said she was honored to receive the Shugrue Award.

“I was very, very humbled. The other awards I have won up to this point, I have been one of five or one of seven recipients,” Denton said. “They only chose one elementary teacher out of the entire country for this one, and it just felt like a huge honor. It is a huge honor.”

Denton will be traveling to Boston April 2-5 to the National Science Teaching Association Conference to receive her award. The award includes $1,000 plus $500 to attend the conference as a presenter.

“I am going share the lesson plan that I submitted here for this, which is about how hurricanes impact the North Carolina coast,” she said.