2009 Kansas OBTA

The following announcement comes from the Kansas OBTA director, Sandy Collins:

Congratulations to Eric Kessler, Kansas 2009 recipient of the National Association of Biology Teachers’ Outstanding Biology Teacher Award (OBTA).

Eric has been teaching at Blue Valley North High School since 1992. Since starting at Blue Valley North, he has taught a variety of classes, including AP Biology, Field Biology, Zoology and 9th grade Honors Biology. Most recently he has added the title of the Bioscience Strand Leader for the Blue Valley School District’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies (that will open in fall of 2010). As the Bioscience Leader he has been working with colleagues to develop courses for teaching the molecular, cellular, and ecological biosciences. Eric’s educational background includes both a BS in Zoology and a BA in psychology from U. of Texas-Austin. He has also earned a Master’s degree in biology from Emporia State University. Eric continues to strengthen his knowledge of biology through involvement in summer workshops (for example, Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellow, “Teaching in the Age of the Genome”) and presentations at state and national conventions. He is a recipient of yearly grants that enable him to enrich his students’ experiences (from supplies for molecular models to supplies for studying the Eastern Newt in Miami county). In 2007 he was awarded the prestigious Miliken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Eric describes his teaching philosophy as “rather simple”. He likes for his students to enjoy themselves while they are being challenged by the content being taught. The techniques he uses are varied: if you were a student in his class you would experience lectures, discussion, thought experiments, and a diversity of laboratory activities. Eric incorporates authentic experiences as students explore biological content. For example, during the ecology unit, students visit a local pond to collect information on the pond’s aquatic organisms. The information is used to create food chains. In this unit students also participate in a Mark and Recapture activity to “work as scientists” to determine the size of a grasshopper population. Students are commonly asked to read primary literature to enhance their understanding of the nature of science and to deepen their understanding of the concept being studied.

Inclusion of technology to help students gain knowledge is also a component of Eric’s classroom. He maintains a web site that contains weekly review questions, online discussions, forums, chats and quizzes. Students use computers in class to enhance knowledge. One example is participation in the Milwaukee School of Engineering program in which students use computers to learn about and generate models of important biological molecules.

For Eric’s students, biology doesn’t end on Friday afternoon. Some of Mr. Kessler’s students spent six weekends on field trips to conduct research on the Eastern Newt in Miami County, Kansas. Other students worked with ecologists from Rockhurst University and KU to conduct research on a relocated population of timber rattlesnakes. Others helped remove exotic and invasive brush honeysuckle from a local natural area.

Eric has earned the respect and affection of students, colleagues and parents. A former student said “The passion and drive that Mr. Kessler displays in all his classes had an amazing effect on my future plans.” A parent of two students said that Eric has “… shown his ability to create a learning environment of rigor and enthusiasm for learning while working to meet the individual needs of each child.” Finally a colleague stated that “On any given day, Eric can be found before, after and during school hours surrounded by students discussing, learning, and experiencing biology. Mr. Kessler’s dedication to improving education extends well beyond the walls of his classroom to impact students and colleagues throughout the building and district.”

The NABT recognizes Eric Kessler’s outstanding contributions to biology education in Kansas. Congratulations on being the Kansas’ 2009 recipient of the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award.