Waitsburg fifth-grade teacher wins state award

Pam Conover will receive the Conservation Teacher of the Year award at a banquet next month.

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WAITSBURG -- Fifth-grade teacher Pam Conover will be recognized as Washington Conservation Teacher of the Year at a banquet in Spokane next month. The award will be presented by Washington Association of Conservation Districts Director John Larson.

Conover was selected from hundreds of science teachers nominated by 40 conservation districts statewide, according to a press release from the Walla Walla County Conservation District.

Mike Denny of the Walla Walla County Conservation District announced the award Thursday the Waitsburg School Board meeting.

Conover has taught since 1975, both full-time and part-time, and except for one year, she has taught in Waitsburg.

As a student in high school and college, she took only the amount of science required, "trying not to throw up the whole time," she joked.

It was not until the then-new Blue Mountain Smalls Consortium set up summer science classes for teachers at Whitman College that Conover learned to respect and even love science.

On Friday, Conover's students examined blepharisma and volvox microorganisms through small microscopes.

Conover's favorite was the volvox, a kind of algae that is green, round and moves in circles, she said.

Once the students finished looking at the specimens, they wrote a paper to compare the two organisms.

"Next week we're doing water out of the horse trough, so they'll see all kinds of crud," she predicted.

The classes at Whitman included a traditional chemistry course, and a class entitled "Science in the Classroom," taught by Peggy Willcutts.

"When we were introduced to Science in the Classroom it was so much fun," Conover said.

The participating teachers learned to use inquiry to teach science. "It is more than just hands-on. They have to do writing, and thinking," she said.

Conover credits Willcutts and retired Waitsburg Superintendent Ed Larsen with encouraging teachers to use a new approach to teaching science.

Science teaching evolved further a few years ago when the school district became aligned with LASER, a learning system that teaches adult staff, and involves community and business people.

The program offered kit training, and teachers learned to use kits that were available for different science units.

The kits come with all needed supplies, and when the unit is complete, the kits are returned for restocking for the next class.

Teachers also began doing "note booking" with children, a method of organizing thoughts like a scientist would do, Conover said.

All teachers in grades K-8 use the same science program at Waitsburg elementary and middle schools, Conover said.

"It could have been any single one of the teachers on that staff that could have been nominated," she said.

"I am very fortunate. I have always worked for a school district that has encouraged me and the rest of the staff to try new things," she said.

"I've had a pretty good ride with my teaching," Conover said.

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