Two Salt Lake Valley schoolteachers were honored Tuesday with $10,000 and Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the highest federal honor for teaching those disciplines.

Twin Peaks Elementary teacher Carol Skousen was honored for her innovations in science education, and Columbia Elementary teacher Jennifer Buttars for creatively teaching second-graders math.

Their bosses couldn't be prouder.

"I feel like we all share in this award," said Barry Hansen, principal of Jordan District's Columbia Elementary. "It makes our school look good, it makes our community look good. It gives us something collectively to be proud of."

The awards program began in 1983 to honor math and science teachers — this year, in elementary grades — in each state, U.S. territory and in the District of Columbia.

Winners receive a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and other gifts, including class supplies and a trip to Walt Disney World for an education program exploring the science, history and art behind theme parks.

They also were in Washington, D.C., Tuesday on a free trip for award-linked celebrations and teacher training activities.

  • Buttars, a former special education teacher, teaches students different ways to arrive answers to math problem — counting on fingers, using a number chart, or mental calculations, for example.
  • "I try to lay a foundation of thinking for the student and a level of confidence in their own abilities as problem-solvers . . . a solid foundation of number sense and mathematical reasoning they can apply to more complicated mathematical ideas," the nine-year educator said in an interview from Washington, D.C.

    "I think a lot of times we get so caught up in, 'We've got to get kids ready for the test.' But if we teach them to be good thinkers, they'll be able to do well on the test."

  • Twin Peaks Principal Calvin Poulson calls Skousen "Our Answer to 'Bill Nye the Science Guy,' " the Emmy-award winning preteen educational program popular in the 1990s.
  • "She runs what I consider the best school science fair in (Granite School) district," in which 98 percent of students participate, Poulson said. "She's just an encyclopedia of science material and ideas, as far as experience and projects."

    The veteran teacher of 28 years helps colleagues statewide improve their science education skills. Skousen, a chemist's daughter, directs her third-graders to conduct hands-on experiments — her force and motion unit is particularly popular — with self-discovery as their learning compass.

    "I act as the mentor, the guide on the side," Skousen said. "I try to let each one of my students know they're loved, that I care about them, that they have potential.

    "I'm there to support them."


    E-mail: [email protected]