LIVERMORE, Calif. — Teachers are no strangers to surprising their students, but in late April, the tables were turned on Livermore teachers Fenna Gatty and Gretchen Reynolds. In front of their students and colleagues, they were surprised as the winners of the Excellence in Teaching Award presented by the Livermore Valley Education Foundation and Sandia National Laboratories.

The award is presented annually to teachers in the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District who use innovative ways to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, come alive for their students. The honor comes with a $500 cash award from Sandia Labs to each teacher.

Gatty and Reynolds also were recognized at a district board meeting. Sandia Community Relations Officer Madeline Burchard spoke about how the two teachers stood out among the other nominees.

“Our work at Sandia is all about developing solutions that haven’t been seen before,” Burchard said. “Teachers who model risk-taking, resilience and a commitment to exceeding expectations are key to inspiring students who do the same.”

Fenna Gatty — leading the way in elementary schools

Gatty, a science teacher at Altamont Creek Elementary School in Livermore, was nominated for her student-centered approach to education and unrelenting enthusiasm. She believes in using the latest technology and emerging teaching best practices to engage her students.

“Ms. Gatty always teaches with a smile and shows enormous grace and resilience,” said Altamont Creek Principal Tara Aderman. “Her collaborative mindset and positive attitude towards change and new ideas make her an innovative teacher.”

Here are some of her most recent projects:

She launched Project Lead the Way for the school district, which has been so successful that she has been invited to present at conferences and train others. Project Lead the Way taps into students’ exploratory nature and engages them in learning that feels like play via hands-on activities.
She created Change My World Now, a social network that allows students to explore ways they can use their talents to make the world a better place.
She does video calls with STEM professionals, such as pilots and computer scientists, allowing students to interact with inspiring individuals without having to leave the classroom.
She created an outdoor classroom where students can learn about Bay Area-friendly landscaping, birds, nutrition, agriculture and ecology. The garden also features an area for students to write, read, sketch and measure.
Gretchen Reynolds — going against the stream

Science teacher Reynolds helps inspire students following an atypical path at Vineyard High School, an alternative school helping everyone from elite athletes to those needing more flexible study plans to achieve their academic goals.

Reynolds incorporated hands-on science and engineering activities into Vineyard’s science and engineering curriculum including adding a year-long field research study to the biology course. Her students regularly travel to Sycamore Grove Park where they conduct water quality testing and wildlife identification to study how the ecosystem changes over a year. When the park flooded earlier this year, she adapted her lessons to draw the students’ attention to its relevance to their ecosystem studies.

Because of Reynold’s work to redesign the biology course, students may now be credited with completing a University of California-approved lab science course.

Going beyond college credit, one student completed an internship with the city of Livermore’s Water Resources Division, helping organize events for the international Coastal Cleanup Day program.

“I enjoy being out in nature,” Reynolds said. “I find purpose in making a difference in the lives of youth. My position at Vineyard allows me to follow both of my passions.”

Reynolds is not finished seeking new ways to engage students in STEM. She recently completed a Master of Education in curriculum and instruction from Concordia University in Portland, Oregon, with an emphasis on STEM. Her thesis project examined the impact of positive academic feedback on student performance.Vin

STEM education a priority for Sandia

In 2007, Sandia established an endowment with Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District to fund the Excellence in Teaching Award. School and district leadership nominate teachers for consideration. The applications are reviewed by a panel of judges comprised of school board members and Sandia employees. Nominees are judged on their use of innovative methods for engaging students with STEM.

The Excellence in Teaching award is just one way Sandia supports STEM education in the community. Other programs include Family Science Night, the Department of Energy Science Bowl and the Sandia Women’s Connection Math and Science Awards.