Educator at Sunset Elementary named finalist for Presidential Excellence Award in science teaching
Alli LeWarne, a teacher at Sunset Elementary, is a finalist for a national award that if she were to be selected, would be presented by President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.
LeWarne has been a Project Lead the Way teacher at Sunset for five years. When she got a letter asking for applicants for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, she decided to throw in an application.
After going through the application process, LeWarne has been named a finalist for the 2022 National Award for Excellence in Science. The final decision for the award will take place at the White House and the winner will get an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the recognition.
This weekend, LeWarne will attend the state science conference, and she will be recognized there for being a finalist. There isn’t a set timeline yet for the national awards to be announced, as previous year’s ceremonies were delayed by COVID-19.
“I am honored to be nominated,” LeWarne said. “Going through the process, I didn’t expect to win. There were thousands of applicants.”
When the letter came stating she was a finalist, LeWarne said she was shocked. She had recently made the final clarifications to her application when the letter arrived, and she was still thinking about how she could improve on her application.
LeWarne said she was in disbelief, and when she read that she was a finalist, she kept standing up and then sitting back down, until her daughter asked what was going on. That’s when she said out loud that she had made it as a finalist.
There is one other finalist for the national award from Colorado, a middle-school teacher from Glenwood who was named the 2022 Colorado Teacher of the Year.
“I didn’t fully realize how much a big deal it was until the past few weeks,” LeWarne said.
The application process was extensive. In addition to a written application, LeWarne submitted photos of students doing projects as well as a recording of one of her classroom lessons.
“Project Lead the Way is such a great program,” LeWarne said, adding that Ty Kuberry and Rhonda Counts also teach Project Lead the Way at Sandrock and Ridgeview elementary schools and they lead great programs as well.
In her application, LeWarne tried to highlight the engineering design process, the science notebooks where students track what they’re learning and all of the hands-on projects they get to do. For one of the learning units, students were tasked with the problem of how to prevent a landslide. First, students had to identify their learning objectives by writing a list of what information they would need in order to solve the problem.
Then, students had to do hands-on experiments with everyday materials such as coffee filters, pipe cleaners, aluminum foil, plastic wrap or straws before building a model of what they believe could prevent a landslide using those materials.
All of the units feature some type of problem, which students get to solve by doing experiments and learning about the scientific principles. LeWarne’s fifth grade class is learning how to build a water filter, while fourth-graders are learning about concussions and being tasked with building a brain map that shows how signals travel through the body.
LeWarne said that Sunset’s leaders have given her freedom to explore projects that students can learn from. Her science classes had an outdoor bee farm over the summer, and there is an indoor hydroponic tower garden outside her classroom.
LeWarne said she can really tell the difference in how the program works, especially when new students come from other towns and are hesitant at first to jump into hands-on projects. But she added that it doesn’t take long for new students to discover this classroom is a safe place to make mistakes, learn and discover new things about science.
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