Encouraging students to become lifelong learners is what Jason Daniels strives to accomplish every day in his classroom. And people are taking notice.
The K-Beach Elementary educator was nationally recognized for excellence in teaching math and science last week.
“I’m totally honored to have been selected,” Daniels said.
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are awarded annually by the United States government to up to 108 exemplary teachers in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science from kindergarten through the 12th year. The awards were established by Congress in 1983, according to the PAEMST website.
Daniels grew up in a family of educators, which inspired her career path. Her father was a science teacher in Seldovia after the couple moved to the Kachemak Bay area. After moving to the Central Peninsula, her father served as principal of Redoubt Elementary School and her mother taught at Mountain View Elementary School.
“I really think they were mentors and they inspired me to become a teacher,” Daniels said.
In particular, he said he remembered private science lessons with his father in Seldovia.
“I have to check the tidal pools with dad. He was a professor of marine science there,” Daniels said. “So I had a pretty good experience with science and the natural world through him at an early age and watched them teach over the years loving what they were doing.”
A graduate of Kenai Central High School, Daniels went to the University of Idaho, Kenai Peninsula College, and the University of Alaska Anchorage to earn his bachelor’s degree. He then earned his master’s degree at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau. Daniels also has his National Council certification.
In addition to feeling honored to receive the PAEMST award, he said that this recognition is beneficial to him in his career.
“A former colleague of mine proposed to me and it’s a big process — a lot of waiting and a lot of soul-searching, sort of analysis, your own teaching,” Daniels said. “It’s just a pretty long process, but also a really good professional development experience.”
Recently, Daniels’ fifth and sixth grade classes at K-Beach Elementary completed their unit on Earth Systems, with a particular focus on the geosphere and hydrosphere.
The children were tasked with a real-world problem: How to ensure that clean water moves through a supply pipe in the natural environment?
“Through the educational materials, and then just through the discussions, they found filters that could help clean the water,” Daniels said. “They were trying, as a team, to come up with a filter design that would clean (the) dirty water.”
Another part of his class that piques children’s interest is something he calls “genius hour,” which is a time when students can research a topic of their choice.
“So about an hour a week, students work on finding their own personal passions — things they’re really passionate about,” Daniels said. “And then the rule is that after your research, you have to share it with the rest of the class.”
“The genius hour,” he said, encourages students to venture beyond their usual class assignments.
“It lets them get out of the curriculum that we have to teach them and they’re just allowed to use the tools that we have in the classroom to learn things that they want to learn to personalize their learning,” Daniels said.
Although the award blew Daniels away, he said many of his colleagues deserved the honor as well.
“I may have gone through this process, but I can easily name many other teachers who deserve this award,” he said. “We have such a collection of teachers here in the school district who are just amazing and they do great things in the classroom every day.”
Contact journalist Camille Botello at [email protected]