“Gross, this one is growing so much stuff.”
With one quick walk past Julie Hammari’s sixth grade class, you can hear various squeals and shots about their most recent assignment, not the typical reaction to science homework but common for these students.
Hammari, a graduate of Southern Utah University’s master’s of education and sixth grade teacher at East Meadows Elementary in Spanish Fork, Utah, is allowing her students to become the scientists in an inventive take on education where she is the one is asking the questions and the students lead the discussions.
Her methods are a rarely found in primary education but are now reaping national recognition for her effectiveness. Hammari was recently honored with the 2013 Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching in the state of Utah.
“I truly don’t see myself as a person who is giving these students knowledge,” said Hammari of her teaching style. “I give them basics and then I have them steer the lesson to their interests and what they think is important. That helps them remember and has them realize that math and science is fun.”
Knocking the doldrums out of math and science, Hammari is creating excitement in subjects that are the most daunting by correlating her subjects to the real world.
“My students were always asking ‘when will I ever do this again,’ so now I show them through the lessons we conduct,” Hammari explained.
Currently her students are learning about microorganisms in science, which has each of them scouring East Meadows Elementary for any germs that may be lurking. With the purpose to gross out the students, Hammari’s sixth graders test areas such as PE jerseys, the gym teacher’s whistle, bathroom floors and doorknobs for bacteria.
It is efforts like these that gave Dwight Liddiard, principal of East Meadows Elementary, more than enough reason to nominate Hammari twice for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Math and Science Teaching, the first being in 2010 where she was a finalist for the award.
"I can think of no other teacher that is more deserving of [this] award," Liddiard said. “When you watch Julie teach you are in awe of how powerful her lessons are and how well they come across to her students. She specially designs science activities for her students, which allow them to work at their level and provide motivation and challenges for advance students.”
Parents have also taken notice of the changes in their children’s feelings toward math science. Parent Alice Lepray noticed her son's enthusiasm for math and science dramatically increased since enrolling in Hammari's sixth grade class this year.
"My son Robby has always been good at math and science but found he can be easily bored," Lepray said to the Daily Herald. "Miss Hammari teaches in such a way that she keeps him interested and excited about what he is learning."
But the educational outreach doesn’t stop once the children leave the classroom. Hammari has taken extra measures to ensure that she can continue to help students, and their parents; by maintaining a blog where notes and other homework help is posted.
Hammari’s excellent teaching goes past anecdotal evidence and is shown through her students’ test scores, in the past two year when her students scored 12 to 17 percent higher in Criterion-Referenced Testing.