Susan Barkdoll can hardly contain her enthusiasm—for science projects with her third graders (a butterfly sanctuary, a solar aquaponics system), for her coworkers (“I can’t imagine a better team…but I say that every year!”), for hiking trips with her sons (Mt. Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu). A finalist for the 2016 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Barkdoll has taught in the same classroom for nearly 30 years, but she says it never gets old: “My husband keeps waiting for me to retire, but the job just keeps getting better every day, and every year!”
School: Third-grade teacher, North Verdemont Elementary School, San Bernardino, California
Career Paths: “I started at NVES the day the school opened its doors in 1992. I was only going to teach while my sons were young, but every day was a discovery—I loved questions posed by students. Now I can’t imagine any other profession. Except as an astronaut on Mars…with Matt Damon or Jeff Goldblum (my all-time favorite space alien). I worked as Geena Davis’s stand-in on the movie Earth Girls Are Easy before I got into teaching!
Teaching Philosophy: “Socrates defined my teaching philosophy simply: ‘Wisdom begins in wonder.’ I try to embed inquiry-based learning across the curriculum.”
Wonder, Wander and Write: “My third graders are collaborating with their ‘kinder-garden’ buddies to research insects in our garden. While my students examine heredity and genetics through biodiversity, the kindergartners are learning animal classification. Inspired by the picture book Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale, our own “Martina” insect must choose a mate. Each pair of students creates a new species of insect, blending the traits of two insects they choose. This collaboration includes reading, writing, technology skills, and classroom presentations. The culminating project is a colorful tile mural (we use ceramic tiles from the hardware store) of the students’ interpretation of our insects unit!”
3 Top Tools
The community: “Parents, plus civic, business, and religious groups. One dad weed-whacks the garden every other week, and his daughter left my class two years ago!”
Scholastic eBooks: “This program was instrumental in connecting kids with reading books on their iPads.”
Professional conferences: “Conferences give you the tools, ideas, and connections that will deeply impact not only your students but your personal life.”
What are some cool science moments you’ve had?
“Our tarantula molted in front of the class. Wow! You can’t write or predict experiences like that in your lesson plans!”
Photo: Courtesy of Susan Barkdoll