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Yarmouth school garden proves fertile for winner of presidential teaching award

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Yarmouth school garden proves fertile for winner of presidential teaching award

YARMOUTH — Kimberly Spencer, a looping second- and third-grade teacher at Yarmouth Elementary School, used the school district garden as a way to teach her students about math. Last week, she learned that her creativity landed her the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

"Just to be nominated was an honor," Spencer said. "I was flabbergasted right then that I was nominated by my peers."

The award is presented annually, and alternates between outstanding teachers in kindergarten to sixth grade, and seventh through 12th grades. Fewer than 90 teachers nationally received the award this year.

Spencer, who was named Yarmouth's 2008 teacher of the year, said the application process was very thorough. The award is based on the composition of two lessons and how the children respond to them. A 30-minute videotape had to be submitted with the application and up to 20 pages of answers to questions about her teaching style.

After the information was submitted to the state, the applications were sent to Washington, D.C., for review by the National Science Foundation.

"This has been a very rewarding process," Spencer said. "It has been eye-opening for me to analyze my teaching, and I think I have improved as a teacher because of the process."

The garden is outside her classroom, Spencer said, and was easy to use for her daily lessons. The students planted carrots, and Spencer used them to teach multiplication. She also used the garden to show her second- and third-graders how to measure and plot space and how to create observational drawings.

"The children were very enthusiastic about going outside and learning in this way," she said. "They found the lessons meaningful."

Betsy Lane, the school principal, said Spencer is always well prepared and is successful because she thinks on her student's level.

"She puts a great deal of thought into her lessons," Lane said. "She looks at what each child needs and then instructs them."

In addition, Lane said Spencer is resourceful and will utilize any resources that will help her teaching. She uses the garden as a tool, she uses technology for the children at an early age, she uses the help of the the technology integrators at the school.

"Kim reaches out to others as a way to advance her teaching," Lane said. "She just works very hard at marking her classroom a math and science world for these children."

Spencer said she feels "blessed" to have received the award.

"I am humbled by the whole experience," she said. "I am so fortunate to be in this school district and a part of the community. Yarmouth is such a wonderful place to be with so many resources. I am truly blessed."

Spencer and Pamela Thompson of Madison, the other teacher who received the honor in Maine, will be presented with the award in the fall at the White House. They will spend a week in Washington, D.C., and attend recognition events and professional development programs. They will also receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation.

Amy Anderson can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or aanderson@theforecaster.net.