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Laughter is the best teacher

Science teacher uses humor to relate to students

Meet the teacher

Name: Brynna Vogt

Class: Seventh-grade science at Craig Middle School

Years in Moffat County School District: Six

Teaching philosophy: “All kids can learn, and they learn best by doing things that are relevant to them.”

More to come

Each month, the newspaper will highlight a classroom in the Moffat County School District in its education section in the Saturday Morning Press. Education reporter Nicole Inglis can be reached at 875-1793 or

Alejandro Almaraz passes a pine cone to Jo-el Cole during a lesson on plant reproduction in Ms. Vogt's seventh-grade science class Thursday afternoon at Craig Middle School. Vogt used many hands-on examples of pinecones and plants to enhance the lesson.
Shawn McHugh

Couri Blevins sat in science class during seventh hour Thursday at Craig Middle School, with a male pine cone in one hand and a female in the other.

She looked quizzically from one to the other before addressing her teacher, Brynna Vogt.

"Ms. Vogt?" she asked. "Why is this male pine cone all pretty and the female one is all ugh?"

Vogt tossed her blond hair back and laughed, telling Couri to ponder the difference between the genders for a moment.

"Well, I understand the male pine cones might want to attract the female pine cone," Couri said. "But they're pine cones."

After another fit of laughter with her students, Vogt let them in on a secret.

"Actually, the female one is just older," she said. "But there is a difference. Female cones are always at the bottom of the tree."

But when it was time to turn off the silliness and get the note-taking segment of class out of the way, Vogt's expressive face turned stern.

While writing on the whiteboard, she has an uncanny ability to know exactly which student was talking out of turn without looking behind her.

She sprinkles in small doses of discipline — like waiting until they each had their notebooks out and ready before she started talking — while still allowing her students to joke and tease her about her drawing skills.

"If you bond with them, they'll do more for you," she said of teaching seventh-graders. "The more fun stuff you do, the more they're going to get out of it."

Originally from Ohio, Vogt earned her graduate degree at Montana State University before moving to Craig for a job at the Moffat County School District and the opportunity to ski when she's not in the classroom.

On Thursday, her class spent about 20 minutes taking notes before moving on to an activity in which each table had to list the classifications of several live plants in front of them.

For Vogt, this activity was the perfect example of how to keep middle school students engaged in learning.

"Earlier in the year, when the plants were still alive, we went out and collected a bunch of plants," she said. "Once we finish this unit, they're going to use their notes to try and identify them all. You get all the boring stuff done, then you apply it to something real, something they can relate to."

She said Thursday was probably the fifth day all year the class has had to sit and take notes from the whiteboard.

But even in a traditional classroom setting, she knows her students are gaining important social and critical thinking skills.

"They might never need to know what an angiosperm is later in life," she said. "But, from this, they're getting teamwork and a little discipline."

Discipline is an important aspect to teaching children in their early teens, but Vogt tries to soften it by complementing the occasional tirade with the type of affection she'd give her own peers.

When one of her students showed her his finished worksheet, she gave him a fist pound. But when he asked for a second doughnut for having his homework done, she scolded him for being rude and knowing better than to ask for more.

"Every once in a while, they notice if I'm talking down to them," she said. "They say, 'Hey, we're not in preschool.' I'd imagine they feel more respected when I talk to them like adults."

The last half hour of each day, Vogt teaches an extended studies class called forensics, an optional lesson on solving mysteries.

The class was given a crime scene — the brutal murder of a man named Felix — a list of evidence found at the scene and the statements of four suspects.

Most of the students will probably never live a real life "CSI: Craig," as they call it.

Still, it's the critical thinking and simple lessons they learn from asking the right questions that make lessons like this one worthwhile for Vogt.

As they started to talk about the pieces of evidence, one corner of the classroom was in consensus that all of the suspects had a hand in the murder.

"Be careful not to jump to conclusions before we've tested all the evidence," Vogt warned.

Although she learns more each year, she likes nearly everything about where she is in her teaching career; from the joking and teasing to the excitement of each day, which is never like the day before.

"I'm always on my toes," she said. "Which makes my feet hurt by the end of the day. But, I laugh so hard every day. They just are funny."