Making science relevant

McArdle’s Creative Touch

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)
The AAPG Foundation’s Teacher of the Year Heather McAardle (right), with her most recent
class of college physical geology students on their final field trip of the year.
The AAPG Foundation’s Teacher of the Year Heather McAardle (right), with her most recent class of college physical geology students on their final field trip of the year.

“I want my students to be scientifically literate in the geosciences, and be able to rely upon facts and the scientific method for decision making – no matter their career path.”

Spoken like a dedicated classroom teacher. Spoken, in fact, by Heather McArdle, this year’s winner of the AAPG Foundation Excellence in Teaching Award (Earth Sciences Teacher of the Year).

McArdle, already an award-winning geosciences teacher at Mahopac High School in Mahopac, N.Y., has been described as “incredibly creative,” “a dedicated classroom teacher” and “capable of teaching earth science effectively at all levels.”

She also is author of three published geoscience lab manuals and creator of “Living the Earth Sciences” Web page.

The honor McArdle will receive from the AAPG Foundation comes with a $6,000 prize to be split between McArdle and Mahopac High School. She also will receive an expense-paid trip to the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Houston April 6-9, where she will be presented her award at the All-Convention Luncheon.

Throughout her 17 years of teaching high school and college-age students in fields of geoscience, she has found her students are very interested in science.

“They are curious,” she said, “they have loads of questions.

“Few teenagers are aware of their individual impact on society,” she added, “and as consumers, their economic choices are modified with improved awareness.”

McArdle uses current events to engage her students and make science important and relevant in their everyday life, and said, “This is by far the easiest of my goals.

“Headlines, economic impacts on the job market, town hall meetings for local discussions on hydraulic fracturing, the resources needed for each student to recharge their technological devices,” she said, “everything comes back to geology and economics.

“Geology’s relevance is evident all around us,” she added. “I act as the facilitator of drawing the student’s attention to that evidence.”

Making the Difference

McArdle previously received a National Science Teacher Association award for excellence in inquiry-based science teaching in 2010 – the only high school teacher in the country to be so recognized.

“Inquiry-based, hands-on experiential activities are those that I’ve found to be the most impactful,” McArdle said. “Not only do they tend to keep the students motivated to learn, but these automatically require higher-level critical thinking skills.”

McArdle’s interest in the science was peaked with her first course in geology at her public high school. She admitted this was the point when she knew her career path would involve the geosciences.

“My geology teacher in high school perhaps made the earliest and greatest impression,” she said, speaking of Jeff Callister. “He was, and still is, a dynamic, one-of-a-kind teacher who absolutely loves his subject. I have found one of the nicest, greatest things that can be said to, and of, a teacher is their impact on others.

“(He) made a difference,” she said, “not just for me, but in turn for all the students I teach today.”

McArdle went on to secure a Bachelor of Science dual degree in geology and secondary science education from SUNY Oneonta, and a master’s degree with an emphasis in secondary science education from Syracuse University.

It was at The State University of New York, Oneonta, where she met and was educated in the geosciences by Jim Ebert.

“Jim is an excellent teacher and scientist,” she said. “While a student of his I learned about geology, stratigraphy and the art of teaching.

“Mentors like Jim, Jeff and all the others who have provided me council throughout my professional life cannot be thanked enough,” she added, “and their contributions cannot be overstated.”

The ‘Whole Package’

McArdle’s enthusiasm for teaching the geosciences in the classroom are evident.

Adam Pease, principal, of Mahopac High School said McArdle’s classroom is filled with activity and positive energy.

“You will not help but notice her warm smile and charismatic personality,” he said. “She values student participation and works diligently to make sure that students love science and learn to use it in their everyday life.

“As a teacher, Heather is the ‘whole package,’” Pease said.

“(She) is the teacher whom you would want your child to have.”

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