Friday morning in Terry Wygul’s senior science class, students test out their “mousetrap” contraptions with marbles, dominos, spiral tubes, swinging devices and a finale that always made the class cringe in hopes of a success. Photo by: Luisa Porter
February 17, 2010 11:51:00 AM
CALEDONIA -- Caledonia High School physics teacher Terry Wiygul holds her students'' attention by getting them out of their seats and moving in time with science and technology. But her methods have captured the attention of her peers as well.
Wiygul was honored by the Mississippi Education Computing Association as Teacher of the Year for her work in promoting the use of technology during MECA''s annual conference Feb. 10 in Jackson.
The 10-year Caledonia teacher is known outside her classroom by teachers and students across the state who participate in Wiygul''s Mississippi Virtual Public Schools Web-based classes. Wiygul has 30 high school students earning class credits through her online environmental science course and an untold number of teachers taking advantage of professional development opportunities through MVPS''s Online Resource Center, which Wiygul manages.
Additionally, Wiygul leads E-learning workshops for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, which provide Continuing Education Units that count toward teacher recertification. One of her recent workshops, Web 2.0, went a long way toward earning her Teacher of the Year honors from MECA by showing educators how to interact with the Internet, rather than simply gathering information.
"The Internet used to be a one-way street," says Wiygul. "Now it''s two ways. You can create your own stuff. I help teachers find how to be a part of that two-way street."
Wiygul also takes her show on the road, as was the case with a recent trip to Mississippi Delta Community College where she presented a workshop titled "Girls Gone Tech" that focused on getting female high school seniors involved with technology. She also led "Technology Boot Camp" recently at Mississippi University for Women to show Lowndes County educators how to take advantage of tools such as flash movies.
Wiygul led another "Boot Camp" at the MECA conference before she received her award.
Passion for technology
Her passion for technology, she says, was born when she earned her master''s degree online. Since then, she''s consumed technology as quickly as it has become available.
"I''d say that''s probably my weakness. I stay up all hours of the night. I live for it. I''m always searching and constantly networking with other teachers," said Wiygul.
She doesn''t, however, recommend technology novices jump in with both feet.
"When I do workshops with teachers I tell them to start with baby steps. Start with 15 minutes a day, then turn the computer off, because you can you can get so absorbed that you lose track of time," she said.
Wiygul generally doesn''t have to search long to find new and useful educational tools. Her RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed brings her updates and information from trusted Web sites, which she subjects to certain criteria.
"Does it require download? If so, I probably don''t have time," says Wiygul. "Is it easy to get to? What about usability? Is it free? Do students need to register? Is it fun? How hard is it to learn?"
When Wiygul finds a tool that can be readily applied to instruction, she offers it through the Resource Center, adds it to her workshops or simply implements it in her own classes.
"I''m so ingrained in technology in all levels of my life. Whether it''s my face-to-face teaching or whether online working with other teachers or students," she says.
A better mousetrap
But any good science teacher knows physics can''t be taught completely on a computer. It must be touched and felt in addition to seen and heard. And one of the many yearly projects Wiygul uses to get her students'' working with their hands is the construction of Rube Goldberg machines.
Goldberg, an editorial cartoonist in the early and mid-20th century, was known for his drawings of complicated machines that accomplish simple tasks. The machines are more trouble than they''re worth, but they are a good way to teach students about the principles of energy transfer, momentum and Newton''s laws.
On Friday, 25 of Wiygul''s students participated in a competition to see who could create the most over-engineered contraption. Working in teams of four or five, students had to build machines from materials like Hot Wheels tracks and dominoes that demonstrate a given number of energy transfers in a minimum of 10 seconds.
This is the third year Wiygul has had her students build Goldberg machines and she says they get better every year.
"This group took it way beyond previous years," she bragged.
All but one of the machines went off without a hitch, but the problematic one, which worked after a little nudge, was still an opportunity for learning. Those students were required to write a report detailing why their machine didn''t work.
Wiygul says the concepts learned through building Goldberg machines will stay with her students for the rest of their lives.
"They will never forget what kinetic and potential energy are and they will never forget the equations. And I don''t even make my kids memorize equations," she said. "Physics lends itself to problem-solving and critical thinking and the ability to work with other people in collaboration. How to fix things when something doesn''t go right."
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