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By Susan Vaughn
It’s not easy teaching science to seventh-graders. But Regina Wood loves the age group and she loves science. That enthusiasm and dedication for teaching science at Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth resulted in her being named Barnstable County’s Science Teacher of the Year by the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers.
“It’s my passion. I’m a total science nerd,” Wood said in an interview at the school. “I tell the kids, ‘I love science,’ I’m so excited about it, it makes them excited. It’s about showing they can make a difference.”
Wood said the key to teaching seventh-graders is “to inspire them and keep them interested.” She said she feels she can “catch the kids” at this age and help them go on to the next level.
Wood said she knew she always wanted to do something with science. After doing some substitute teaching, she found she liked the connection with the students, so she went to Bridgewater State University to get her bachelor’s degree in biology. A Yarmouth resident, Wood has taught nine years, three at Barnstable Intermediate School and is in her sixth year at Mattacheese.
In her classes, Wood emphasizes to her students that science is all around us. “Just open your eyes and look,” she said. “I’m always looking to bring science into their everyday life.”
The Mattacheese seventh-grade science team, which includes Dennis Ventola and Lee Hanscom, works well together, Wood said. They do project-based learning that involves the students proving what they learned in the various science disciplines: physical, earth biology, ecology or engineering. This practice is evident by just looking around Wood’s classroom.
The large lab is surrounded by objects made by the students, from robots to Christmas trees made of recycled plastic bottles and “roller coasters” made of various materials to show energy transfer. Previously, the students have built rockets, boats and thermal houses. Last year the three teachers built replicas of the Cape Cod Canal in their classrooms and other teachers built a path to the nearby pond, which they call the Mattacheese Backyard Food Web.
The students also have raised baby diamondback terrapins during the school year and released them in June to help save the endangered species. They learn to identify birds by hanging a bird feeder in back of the classroom.
“We do lots of experiments,” Wood said. “Most kids thrive on it.” Wood believes that STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) “is what we do every day. It’s not separate.”
The variety of disciplines in the science classes also gives students the opportunity to pique an interest in a specific area, Wood said. At a recent school energy fair, 23 seventh-grade students were teachers for all the other seventh graders. They also have STEM nights at school and design challenges. They even Skyped with fisheries biologist Greg Skomal while he was tagging sharks.
“I love that I can help kids like science,” Wood said. “I want them to feel comfortable with learning and with me.”
Wood said she doesn’t know who nominated her for the state award but it could have been anyone in one of the several science programs she is involved in outside the classroom. She leads a STEM group after school and the Gills Club, for girls who love sharks, at the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History in Brewster. “They dissect sharks,” she said, and learn about the field from female speakers.
Wood also is the lead teacher for the Be Energy Efficient Smart program with the Cape Light Compact to teach kids about saving energy and a member of the STEM Network at Cape Cod Community College.
Wood also had praise for the Massachusetts education standards where everyone is teaching the same thing at the same grade level, allowing teachers to build on previous classes. “When you have a solid foundation in middle school, it shows up in the MCATS,” she said.
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