A visiting teacher at Cal Poly is expected to meet with President Barack Obama next week to receive a prestigious award along with 84 other math and science instructors.
Anne Marie Bergen — who’s on a two-year loan to Cal Poly from the Oakdale Joint Unified School District near Stockton — will receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Bergen, a California teacher of the year in 2003, has brought her methods of hands-on, lab-based learning in the sciences to her instruction of Cal Poly’s liberal studies students — the undergraduates seeking to become K-12 teachers.
She’s one of two teachers in California to receive the presidential honor this year.
As the leader of the Oakdale district’s science program, Bergen had a special focus on elementary students and helped drastically improve science test scores among fifth-graders — the only elementary grade the state tests in science.
Oakdale jumped from 39 percent proficiency in science in 2005 to 66 percent in 2008, according to assistant superintendent Barbara Shook.
“That was the result of students having hands-on information that makes the material stick,” Shook said. “Test scores were never what drove her. Probably the biggest piece for us was having a teacher dedicated to science that allowed our teachers to have a resource to go to.”
Bergen’s ideas for student projects in Oakdale included raising salmon eggs and visiting the Stanislaus River to observe spawning, using materials to build miniature homes to teach students about solar energy, and hosting a “Dinner with a Scientist” event in which students in grades 6 to 12 learned about careers in science.
“Science has its own language, and the way it’s often taught doesn’t always connect with students,” Bergen said. “Hands-on experiences aren’t very prevalent at the elementary level in science in particular.”
Bergen said that her goal is to help teachers feel comfortable and competent to teach science — which can be an intimidating subject for some.
She came to Cal Poly after meeting former Cal Poly President Warren Baker four years ago while serving on the California Teacher Advisory Council.
Bergen — a Cal Poly graduate in biology — and Baker share an interest in boosting the science and math performance of K-12 students and improving classroom teaching.
She said the award she’s receiving next week in Washington, D.C., will motivate her to reach out to more teachers and school districts.
“It will inspire me,” Bergen said. “Really, the key for teaching science is to seek out resources and don’t become too isolated.”