Grosse Pointe WoodsJune 21, 2012
Teacher earns prestigious national recognition
By April Lehmbeck
C & G Staff Writer
GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Grosse Pointe North’s Don Pata is a source of pride for his school and community as one of the top teachers in the country in the fields of math and science.
Pata will travel to the nation’s capital this summer because he is one of the less than 100 teachers from across the country chosen for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
While some states had one winner from math and one from science, Pata, who teaches science, is the only teacher from Michigan on the list.
“While we in Grosse Pointe have long known Don’s special ability as an educator and innovator, it is wonderful that the entire nation get to learn about one of Grosse Pointe’s most outstanding teachers,” North Principal Tim Bearden said in an email to others in the district. “I told Don this morning that I have grown professionally through observing him teach, and it is a real honor to work with him.”
While this may be the most prestigious award a teacher can receive, a humble Pata said he’s both flattered and excited.
“The award is a way for me to honor and celebrate all of the wonderful teachers who inspired me,” Pata said in an email. “Education is a legacy, and it is our mission to inspire students as well as other teachers toward quality education on all levels.
“Good teachers are continually developing and sharing quality practice,” he said. “In this service, we dedicate so much time and energy, and this award is an affirmation that there are tangible rewards for all of our hard work and dedication.”
Pata has been teaching at North for 13 years after teaching in West Africa for the Peace Corps, according to the National Science Foundation website. He teaches physics at North and is the chair for the science department, the website states.
Pata said his teaching philosophy is to use “inquiry-based, constructivist methodology.”
He works to find ways to get students engaged in the learning process with lab activities and other methods that get students involved in the classroom experience.
“At all stages students are learning science while doing science,” he said. “We take ‘hands-on’ to a whole new level. It isn’t part of the class structure, it is the whole class structure.
“When students construct their own knowledge they feel the ownership of that knowledge,” he said. “That is real learning.”
Award recipients will be given $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and the visit to the capital, which includes the awards ceremony where they will be able to meet members of Congress and representatives from the White House.
“America’s success in the 21st century depends on our ability to educate our children, give our workers the skills they need, and embrace technological change,” President Barack Obama stated in a White House press release about the awards. “That starts with the men and women in front of our classrooms. These teachers are the best of the best, and they stand as excellent examples of the kind of leadership we need in order to train the next generation of innovators and help this country get ahead.”
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