Olathe North High School science teacher Marsha Skoczek is the kind of educator who believes students enhance their learning when they go out into the world and practice what they’ve learned in the classroom. That’s why you’ll often see her earth science students at a creek conducting water tests or visiting local wetlands.
It’s her creativity both inside and outside of the classroom that has resulted in Skoczek being named Earth Science Teacher of the Year by the Kansas Geological Association and the Kansas Earth Science Teachers Association. Along with the title, Skoczek won a $1,000 award and was honored recently at a Kansas Geological Foundation banquet in Wichita.
The award is designed to honor teachers who spark an interest in earth science in their students.
Skoczek, who has been teaching for 20 years, wasn’t even aware that she had been nominated for the award when she got the call in January informing her that she had won. A current colleague and a former colleague worked together behind the scenes to nominate her for the honor. News of the surprise win left her speechless.
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“It’s an honor and I am humbled by it,” Skoczek said. “I am not used to the attention, but it really reaffirms all the late nights and the weekends and all the extra stuff we do for our students on our own time.”
For the past six years, Skoczek has been sharing her love of science with ninth- through 12-graders at Olathe North High School. She is a teacher in the district’s 21st Century Geosciences program housed at the school. The program is geared toward students who are interested in earth sciences such as geology, paleontology, meteorology and marine biology.
Carol Williamson, a master teacher with the UKan Teach program at the University of Kansas, is the former colleague who nominated Skoczek for the award. She previously worked with Skoczek at the Olathe school district and has long admired her dedication to her subject and her students.
“Marsha is an accomplished, passionate earth science teacher who not only brings excellent learning opportunities to her own students, but also provides earth science professional development for K-12 teachers, thereby enhancing earth science learning for countless students,” Williamson said in a written statement.
Students in the 21st Century Geosciences program get some amazing opportunities to study science outside the classroom. Every four years, students in the program travel either to the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas, Texas to study marine biology or to Yellowstone National Park, where they study geology.
In addition to the big trips every few years, Skoczek conducts several local field trips. Each year, her students visit the Baker Wetlands in Lawrence, the University of Kansas Natural History Museum and go hunting for fossils in Olathe.
The field trips are designed for students to put into practice what they learn in the classroom.
“I try to apply stuff that they learned in class by going out and seeing it in the field locally,” Skoczek said. “I am trying to get them some hands-on science opportunities.”
The field trips don’t end with her students. Skoczek enjoys her own learning outside the classroom as well. In 2012, she spent two weeks aboard a ship traveling the southeastern seaboard where she collected data as part of the Teacher at Sea program sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Skoczek developed a love of the outdoors at an early age and believes it has shaped the way she shares her enthusiasm for earth science with her students.
“As a little kid, we had a creek down the street and all of us kids played there,” Skoczek said. “I loved being outside. My dad would take me fossil hunting and to the planetarium. It was a family thing.”
Skoczek said she loves it when her students connect with the material and how she sees their enthusiasm for science grow every day.
“I think we live on an amazing planet and it is great getting students excited about where we live,” Skoczek said. “It’s just pretty cool.”
Sara Beane: firstname.lastname@example.org.