HICKORY – Vanessa Lail loves science and even though she’s the media coordinator at Grandview Middle, it’s a subject she’s always interested in sharing with all the students at the school.

She’s earned the opportunity to take this interest to the next level at Grandview Middle after she was chosen as one of five teacher winners from across the country and the only one in North Carolina to win $5,000 through Science Everywhere, a nationwide challenge by Overdeck Family Foundation and the Simons Foundation in partnership with DonorsChoose.org.

Science Everywhere challenged math and science teachers to create projects for outside the classroom to help students learn more about these academic subjects in a real world setting. The projects should be something other classes could replicate.

To be one of the winners, Lail developed a project for sixth-graders and their parents, where they grew Wisconsin Fast Plants at home and investigated their responses to external stimuli by building a 3D maze to vary the plants’ access to light. This taught them about phototropism.

Students chronicled their experiments with pictures of each plant and daily notes. They worked with Lail to create presentations summarizing their research at the end of the project and made presentations to the rest of their class.

The students bought into the project completely, Lail said.

“They felt important and we talked about what it means to be a citizen scientist and how they’re going to come back and share their data from the project,” Lail said. “They were excited to have an experiment all to themselves because usually in school we have partners. In this case, they got to take their materials home and be the lead person.

“I think it was very empowering for them.”

A judging panel of classroom teachers and national leaders in math and science, including astronaut Leland Melvin, NFL Pro Bowl Receiver Victor Cruz, TV personality Science Bob, neuroscientist Leslie Vosshall, Laura Overdeck and Marilyn Simons, selected teachers whose projects strengthened their students’ problem-solving skills, supported outside-class engagement with math and science, and were easily replicable across a wide range of school environments, according to a Science Everywhere press release.

“As parents, we all know our children need to read to succeed. But frankly, with the technological revolution transforming every aspect of our economy, I believe our children’s future success also depends on their ability to think critically and solve problems,” Laura Overdeck, chair of the Overdeck Family Foundation, said via email.

“Parents can easily show that throwing a football and baking a cake are science in action. Most people don’t equate these activities with physics and chemistry, but in fact these examples show kids that science will help them in daily life. We need to show kids that science is alive and relevant for every student, not just for the future career scientists.”

With the $5,000, Lail already is trying to figure out what the next project will be for the school.

“We might repeat the plant project, but I’m still working with the teachers to determine what our science needs are, and we’ll be able to use that money for more funding through DonorsChoose to get science materials to use throughout the school,” Lail said.

The other winning teachers included Milton Fernandez from Seminole Elementary in Miami, Fla.; Onize Isa from Orangeburg-Wilkinson High in Orangeburg, S.C.; Nancy Kowalczyk from Cool Valley Elementary in St. Louis, Mo.; and Michelle Scheet from Saddlebrook Elementary in Omaha, Neb.

“Science Everywhere demonstrates the countless ways in which students and parents can do math and science outside of the classroom,” Marilyn Simons, president of the Simons Foundation said via the release. “These thoughtful projects show how easy it is to use science and math to inspire curiosity in students.”

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