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Peter Goff Named Science Teacher of the Year

Peter Goff, who teaches biology, environmental science, and zoology and serves as science department chair at Vermont Commons School has been named the 2012 Vermont Science Teacher of the Year by the Vermont Academy of Science and Engineering (VASE) for grades 9-12.

VASE recognizes and honors Vermont’s outstanding teachers by granting two annual awards to teachers in Vermont who have served as role models for their colleagues and are leaders in the improvement of science education. One award will be given for a teacher of kindergarten through 8th grade and the second for 9th through 12th grade.

Goff was chosen for the 9-12 award because he inspires students of all backgrounds and abilities to learn, his classes stimulate critical thinking, his work has gained the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues, he has developed innovative approaches, and he plays an active role in the community as well as in the school.

Producing Naturalists

Goff began developing the science curriculum at Vermont Commons School with the goal of producing naturalists. A naturalist is a scientist who understands the environment and one’s place within that system. This science curriculum is multidisciplinary, using ecology and systems science to understand the interconnections between chemistry, physics, and biology.

According to Goff , “Throughout my academic career, I became more and more convinced that the strict compartmentalization that was the accepted standard throughout academia was not capable of producing naturalists. While some superb naturalists have come from that very system, I believe that it is the exception, not the rule, that scientists establish the personal connection with their local ecosystems that is the hallmark of a naturalist.”

In Goff’s Research & Service class, called Environmental Engineering, he works closely with the community on environmental issues. This year, Jim Pease of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation tasked the class with recording the erosion in the lake-ward streams of the local watershed, which is a natural and recreational resource for the City of South Burlington, and the drinking water source for 70,000 people. In the spring, the class presented their findings to Jim Pease, the Town of South Burlington, and the Town of Shelburne.

According to a parent, Jennifer Molnar Boudette, “Kelsey Boudette, VCS 2008, graduated from UVM on May 12th with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences, Concentration in Water Resources. Kelsey will tell you that it was those years of working in Bartlett Brook that led directly to her path of study.”

Another student of Goff’s, Vermont Commons School Alumna, Ruth Heindel, is currently enrolled in a PhD program in the Dartmouth Earth Sciences Department, to pursue her interest in arctic geology. In addition to her acceptance into the Earth Sciences Department, she has received an IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) Fellowship to be part of Dartmouth’s Polar Environmental Change program. The program will allow her to research glacial history and landscape evolution in Greenland, while considering the social impacts of climate change in the arctic and effective methods of science communication.

In the fall, Goff will be co-teaching a Big History class with Vermont Commons School Social Studies Instructor, Heather Moore. Vermont Commons School is one of 50 schools in the U.S. chosen to pilot Bill Gates and David Christian’s program about the history of the universe and the first middle school to offer the course. Big History weaves evidence and insights from many scientific and historical disciplines across 13.7 billion years into a single, accessible origin story: one that explores who we are, how we got here, how we are connected to everything around us, and where we may be heading.

Goff  notes, “Big History brings science and  history together along with different areas of knowledge into one unified story. This story provides students with a deeper awareness of where we are at this moment in time, better preparing them to help shape the future of our fragile planet.”

Receiving the Award

The award will be presented at the annual VASE meeting on Monday, October 8 at 5PM in the Davis Auditorium at the University of Vermont. At the event, Dr. Woodie Flowers, Professor Emeritus at MIT, will discuss education versus training and Peter Goff will talk about his career and his approach to science education.

Scholarship. Community. Global Responsibility.

At Vermont Commons School, our goal is to engage students with their world. We achieve this through programs and a curriculum grounded in local and global involvement.