A Parksville teacher has won the prestigious Prime Minister of Canada Teaching Award.
Carl Savage, who teaches at Ballenas Secondary School, was selected for the Certificate of Achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to a news release.
Savage said the unique way he uses technology in the classroom was a big part of why he was chosen.
“The students that are using this technology in my classroom will have the experience with it before they first see it in post-secondary,” he said.
Savage’s students learn to code using tools such as jupyter notebook. He said his use of year-long research projects, which he developed, also caught the judges’ interest.
Students design a project based on their interests and then carry it out by collecting data and eventually presenting their findings in a presentation or research paper.
Savage teaches coding to his students even if it’s not part of the studies program because he is aware of the significant benefits. One example is an experiment designed by a group of his students that was sent to the International Space Station (ISS), according to the release.
The students worked on computer code they hoped would be able to detect small variations to the ISS’s orbit as it travels through the thin upper atmosphere of earth.
Another ISS-related project involved students conducting the control aspect of a study to see how alfalfa sprouts grow in zero gravity. Their experiment was conducted in unison as astronauts grew the sprouts in space.
“The alfalfa actually grew better on the ISS than it did in their control,” said Savage, who was an astrophysicist who worked on missile guidance systems before he became a high school level educator.
He said he enjoys interaction with his students and the look on their faces when they first discover a love for science.
“I see that at least two or three dozen times a year,” he said. “That look of — they’ve found their place. They’ve found the thing they love. There’s nothing like that.”
Students have gone on to work as engineers at Tesla and win the national Schulich Scholarship, with one past winner recently offered a full-ride scholarship at Stanford University to do a PhD.
“Our school played a little part in that happening and that’s a good motivator,” said Savage, who added he could not have won the teaching award without support from the school and school district.
“It’s not just me,” he said. “Our school, the administration in our school district, allows this program to run. Other teachers support this program and support the students in their pursuit of this research project, so it’s a group effort.”