Amy Williams, a middle school science teacher at the Headwaters Academy in Bozeman, MT, is the recipient of the first NASATalk STELLAR Award of 2012.
“The STELLAR Awards recognize excellent uses of NASA science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) materials by educators in classrooms or informal settings,” said Dr. Chuck Wood, director of the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University, which operates the NASATalk website through the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future program. “Ms. Williams is being honored for the astrobiology unit she organized and integrated into her science curriculum.”
As Williams explained in her STELLAR award application, “This is the first year I have included a unit on astrobiology in my curriculum; what a fantastic experience it has been for myself and my students! NASA materials were essential for background information and for the development of several projects and activities. The astrobiology unit follows a unit in which students learn how we define life and the characteristics common to all living things. The astrobiology unit builds on previous lessons by reiterating concepts such as homeostasis, energy utilization, and evolutionary adaptations. Students also build on concepts introduced on a field trip to Yellowstone National Park the previous academic year. I also took full advantage of our school's proximity to Montana State University and its researchers, who are eager to connect with our students.”
For the STELLAR award application Williams provided a summary and outline of her astrobiology unit, teaching materials, and examples of student work. Williams organized her astrobiology unit so that it spanned four weeks and built progressively from basic concepts related to extremophyllic microbes, the conditions on other planets and moons in our solar system, and finally to NASA's search for life outside of Earth. These instructor-guided, inquiry-based lessons consist of discussions, activities, experiments, projects, guest experts, and a tour of a research laboratory. More information about the astrobiology lesson plans created by Williams and how she integrated NASA materials is available on the NASATalk website and on a blog site for teachers in which Ms. Williams has several of her lessons posted for sharing.
"Mrs. Williams’ lesson plans help her students to understand the concept of an extremophile in the context of their Montana vicinity," noted Dr. Debbie Piecka, educational researcher and instructional designer at the Center for Educational Technologies. "She reminds students of the extremophyllic life they observed in Yellowstone the previous spring. Then, they apply these concepts to habitability of a planet or moon."
Williams has received many honors during her teaching career. She is a 2006 recipient of the National A&E History Channel Ideas from Our Teachers award, one of eight teachers recognized nationally. She likes to keep active as a research scientist and is a two-time recipient of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Teachers fellowship at Montana State. Through this program she has created and maintained an outreach program for middle school students that uses the scanning electron microscope at MSU (visit her website for details). A grant from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the largest professional association in the world and dedicated to the advancement of technology, supported expansion of the scanning electron microscope project for Headwaters Academy students.
Williams will receive a $100 stipend for winning the STELLAR Award. Educators are invited to review her winning application, previous STELLAR award profiles, and apply each for the award at the NASATalk website, which was created and is hosted by the NASA-sponsored Classroom of the Future at the Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University.
Read more about Ms. Williams STELLAR Award and astrobiology unit:
- Copy of Astrobiology Unit Outline created by Amy Williams (File provided as PDF attachment.)
- Example of Teaching Materials (File provided as PDF attachment.)
- Feature story about this STELLAR Award