Montana high school teacher James G. “Jim” Schulz has been named the winner of the 2006 AAPG Teacher of the Year, an award sponsored annually by the AAPG Foundation to promote earth sciences education.
Schulz will be honored in Houston on Monday, April 10, during the All-Convention Luncheon at the AAPG Annual Convention.
Schulz, who teaches earth sciences and biology to grades 9 and 10 at the Helena High School in Helena, Mont., is being honored for his creative and innovative approach in making science relevant for his students.
That approach emphasizes the natural surroundings of Helena, which Schulz uses to engage his students in fervent discussion about resources -- and how to use and preserve them.
“I believe making a personal connection with a student will get that individual through life better than just inculcating him/her with content,” he said.
As Teacher of the Year, Schulz will receive $5,000 from the AAPG Foundation; $2,500 goes to Helena High School for educational use under Schulz’ direction; the other $2,500 goes to Schulz for his own personal use.
“Hats off to AAPG for supporting teachers,” Schulz said. “I wish other organizations would do the same.”
Schulz, born and raised in Montana, was influenced greatly by his rugged surroundings and admits that he has been “a collector of stuff” since he was a young child.
“At age five, I started collecting rocks,” he said. “Then it was insects, stamps, historical artifacts, maps, magazines, western books, shells, preserved marine specimens, feathers, skins, dried wildflowers ...
“You name it,” he said, “and I had a collection.”
Applying his childhood passion to his own education, Schulz received a bachelor’s in history and science from Montana State University in 1979.
The Montana native began teaching science to grades 7-12 in 1980 at the Willow Creek School in Willow Creek, Mont. -- Montana’s smallest high school with 21 total students. He has taught at Helena since 1986.
In 1998 he received a master’s in earth sciences from Northern Arizona University.
As a teacher, Schulz takes a page from his own experience and immerses his students in a geological journey from the moment they step in his classroom.
“I revel in the teachable moment that challenges my students and makes them think,” Schulz said.
All who inspire others were once inspired themselves by a mentor or model -- and Schulz is no exception.
“I had a tremendous high school science and math teacher that inspired me to learn more,” Schulz recalled. “Mr. Robert Wescott was a veteran of World War II and a forester by degree. He loved kids, loved the outdoors and especially teaching.
“He was light years ahead in his approach to education,” Schulz continued. “He stressed the basics supported by hands-on activities and labs. He was my inspiration to go into education, and there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t use him as an example.”
Indeed, Schulz’ teaching style resembles that of his high school mentor.
“I believe in teaching to a student’s learning style. Hands-on inquiry based lessons are valuable,” he said. “I believe that the students should do most of the work.”
Students aren’t the only ones who benefit from Schulz’ approach. In 2001, his enthusiasm for earth science led him to collaborate with Helena English teacher Margaret Belisle and teach a combined class of both earth science and English to high school freshman.
The combined class, GeoCom, encourages students to find solutions to scientific problems and then convey them in a journalistic manner through a student-created teen section of the local newspaper called Fusion, and is one of the most requested classes by students.
Receiving the AAPG TOTY award is a gratifying addition to Schulz’ list of honors which include, most recently, Montana State Teacher of the Year Runner-up (2000) and Disney American Teacher Award for Outstanding Middle School Science Teacher (2000). In 2004 he received a National Education Association Innovation Grant.
He plans to use the grant from AAPG to purchase an earthquake simulation machine for the department.
Schulz already has seen so many of his dreams come true, but has more on his list.
“I am still excited about discovery and wish to pursue my dream of exploring all seven continents,” he said. That dream would include:
- Riding horses in Mongolia.
- Sleeping in the rainforest of Brazil.
- Climbing the Grand Teton.
- Floating above the desert in a hot air balloon.
- Listening to the ancient tones of the didgeridoo echo across the Australian outback.
- Wandering the plains of Patagonia.
- Performing traditional Irish music with a great band.
“It looks like a memorable next 50 years.”