Top Educator: Langley environmental champion gets students excited for science

A Walnut Grove science teacher is lauded by the prime minister for his work.

Everybody is born a scientist, if we believe a Walnut Grove teacher who was just recognized for excellence in his profession.

The prime minister recognized 10 teachers for excelling in their field, and Walnut Grove’s Tim Stephenson was among them.

In his work as a teacher and department head at Walnut Grove Secondary, Stephenson shapes science teaching to encourage students to engage in science 24 hours a day.

At the same time, he is a proponent of information and communications technologies – and was writing about its benefits as far back as the early 1990s.

One student raved about his efforts: “[Mr. Stephenson] is a role model that many students, including myself look up to, not just as a teacher, but as a true educator who guides students as we explore the many experiences life has to offer.”

Stephenson, a science teacher and department head at WGSS, seeks to destroy the idea that science is only for “the smartest of the smart” by bringing science to life through real-life stories that involve science, discussing rather than lecturing, and teaching everyone that they can and should get involved with science, since it touches every aspect of life.

It was this local teacher’s efforts that were commended with this rare excellence award teaching from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Only one other B.C. teacher was among the recipients.

The winning teachers are honoured for their “remarkable achievements in education and for their commitment to preparing their students for a digital and innovation-based economy.”

Stephenson encourages students to be at home with science.

His students learn to see solar panels, lithium batteries, and telescopes as familiar and useful tools for learning because they are right there in the classroom with them.

He extends opportunities for learning beyond his classes: his SnapChat stories about chemistry and space get students excitedly discussing science in the halls; by following his Twitter account, students stay on top of world events; star parties bring students to school at night to study the sky.

Stephenson also encourages “Eureka” moments through hands-on projects with Grade 9 students monitoring a local stream, while Grade 12s act as mentors and advisors on water chemistry.

His accolades extend beyond just one-on-one moments in the classroom.

He has created the only astronomy course in the school district, which students flock to, and his course led to public outreach opportunities that see Stephenson now serving as education chair for the Royal Astronomical Society in Vancouver.

He also inspired a student-driven engineering club at his school. The kids meet regularly, after school, to transform single-use plastic items into moulds for parts for student designed and build creations.

He also coordinated a science-based field trip to Hawaii to teach students about geology, astronomy, marine biology, agriculture, and the history and culture of Hawaii.

And Stephenson was featured at a local TEDx event, speaking about the importance of teachers, the near future of the environmental sciences, and the joy of learning.

With these awards, Trudeau recognizes the important role that educators in all regions play in preparing young Canadians to become the leaders, innovators and middle-class workers of tomorrow.

He presented the high honours during a ceremony in Ottawa back in February, where teaching excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and excellence in early childhood education, were also acknowledged. The award was kept under wraps until last week, when the Langley board of education was able to congratulate Stephenson.

On a school district website, it states: “Certainly the Langley School District and students of WGSS are fortunate to have Tim teaching in this community – congratulations!”

The prime minister’s awards for teaching excellence recognize outstanding elementary and secondary school teachers in all disciplines.

Award winners must have demonstrated exceptional teaching practices that have inspired their students and equipped them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

Next year will be the 25th year that the prime minister will recognize outstanding educators.

Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, joined Trudeau at the ceremony.

“Inspiring, motivating and igniting curiosity—that’s the power of our hard-working Canadian teachers! The educators we honour today are preparing our youth for the jobs of tomorrow. They are not only equipping young Canadians with knowledge and skills they will need but also nurturing a lifelong curiosity and passion for learning. They’re making dreams come true!”

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