Mike Vargas Arizona Science Teacher of the Year

The Arizona Science Teachers Association (ASTA) honors four teachers each year at their fall convention.  Two honorees in 2014 are modelers.

One is Michael Vargas, High School Science Teacher of the Year. Michael is a physics teacher at Pinnacle High School in Paradise Valley School District in Phoenix AZ.  He teaches lower-level 9th grade students, including students who have Individual Education Plans (I.E.P.s).

Pinnacle High School has required all 9th graders to take physics for 15 years or longer.  In 2015 there were 22 sections: 9 regular, 11 honors, 2 AP-1. Freshman physics has about 33 students per class, AP physics about 28 per class. All Pinnacle students take biology and chemistry, too.

When Michael accepted the award, he lauded Modeling Instruction. He highlighted the accomplished staff with whom he works; science staff include physics modelers Gregg Swackhamer and Agatha Anderson. Michael stated  that he was inspired by their dedication to their students.

He stated that learning today must be student-centered and that students must be supported in developing their own internal drive to lead to success. He proudly displays this quote in his classroom: “Courage Lies in Every Heart”, believing that what teachers do makes a difference in the growth of students as citizens and leaders in global innovations in science.

Michael says that 9th grade physics makes sense!  The hands-on, minds-on approach is the biggest factor in success. Students learn graphing skills, logical reasoning, word-problem solving, and other 21st century skills that carry over to other courses and give a great foundation for all four years of high school.  9th grade physics works for his I.E.P. students too.  And It helps algebra teachers, because students learn graphing skills in physics class 3 weeks prior to learning it in their algebra class.

His vision for I.E.P. students is for all of them to take 9th grade physics  (and the required biology course in 10th grade) and then science electives: he suggests forensics and earth/space science as examples.

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