Wellington Middle School teacher creating scientists one kid at a time

“I don’t know all of her accomplishments, but I do know one, and that is me — and the students she has taught,” says Gonzalo Villalpando, a Wellington Middle School student taught by Vicky Jordan. “That’s how good of a science teacher she is.”

Villalpando isn’t alone. It’s a daunting task, attempting to summarize exactly why the National Science Teachers Association chose Jordan as the sole recipient of its annual distinguished teaching award. Sometimes the selection committee is torn between two, three, even four candidates and ends up awarding multiple honors. This year Jordan was deemed in a class all her own.

After earning a degree in wildlife biology at Colorado State University, Jordan spent five-years in management with the Division of Wildlife. “When I decided that I could make more of a difference as a teacher, I went back to school to get those credentials.”

Jordan has been teaching ever since. After a year at Blevins Middle School, she began what was to be a 26-year commitment to the students of Wellington Middle School. She’s taught health, introduction to chemistry and physics, physical science and computer classes, but she’s in her element teaching seventh and eighth grade science.

“She has made it her mission to care for each student as if they were her own, in believing in kids and helping them develop their own ways to venture out into the world, better for having known and learned from her,” says WMS principal Alicia Durand.

The NSTA award, to be presented April 1 during the group’s convention in Nashville, Tenn., considers science educators teaching kindergarten through undergraduate college. In addition to general excellence in teaching, the judges look for efficient planning, lesson presentation skills, the ability to motivate and challenge students, professional contributions to science and science education, professional growth activities and leadership roles in professional organizations. They ask for three letters of support, samples of lesson plans and assessment tools and evidence of success.

Jordan’s colleagues can vouch for the fact that she gets high marks in every criteria. As a perpetual student herself, she has set an example keeping up with technology, making use of a whole array of techniques such as digital graphic organizers, interactive notebooks, student response clickers, Skype and movie-making software before those things were all the rage. She was the first person in her school to sign up to learn how to use and incorporate 3-D printers in the classroom.

She has an entire repertoire of songs, chants, costumes and dances she uses to make it fun for students to learn difficult concepts. Her classroom is alive with wasp nests, whale baleen, fossils — and yes, real, live creatures, a corn snake and hermit crabs.

She seeks grants that make field trips possible for her students. She’s big on collaboration with students and with teachers of other disciplines. Recognizing that students learn in many different ways, she accommodates to many learning styles.

Local author Gary Raham has been a speaker in Jordan’s classes for many years, sharing his expertise in geologic time. Students read his book, Deep Time Dairies, get tips from him on scientific illustration and go on to do their own research projects, often incorporating writing skills.

“Vicky puts the Energizer Bunny to shame when it comes to enthusiasm for teaching kids about science,” Raham says. “She takes that extra effort to enrich her curriculum that is so difficult for teachers to do these days. I’ve been fortunate that she took a liking to The Deep Time Diaries. Together we create an experience for kids that they seem to enjoy and that stays with them. Vicky has also raised kids of her own, battled cancer, wildfires and other challenges in life with great good humor. I’m sure many students have incorporated her lessons into their lives and will build better futures because of it. I know she will carry her enthusiasm for life and science into retirement.”

A recent project that grew out of a training Vicky attended at Colorado State University concerning weather and climate led to a stunning visual demonstration that stretches 72 feet down the halls of WMS. Jordan’s students documented 800,000 years of ice core carbon dioxide data into 10,000-year data sets which plotted the amount of carbon dioxide in ice core samples. Observing this progression is an eye-opening experience for anyone and makes it possible for viewers to draw their own conclusions about climate change. Several of Jordan’s classes worked together to create the revealing timeline.

Jordan says that she’ll only be semi-retired when school’s out this year. She’ll keep on learning, she’ll continue to be involved with science and with students. She’ll enjoy having more time at her mountain home in Rist Canyon with Rick, her science teacher husband, now retired. The pair met when Vicky was student teaching, then collaborated for a year planning a student trip to the Virgin Islands. It was there that they fell in love. Their sons, Forest, an aerospace student at the University of Colorado, and Dillon, enjoying a gap year filled with outdoor adventures, have benefited from their parents enthusiasm for the world around them.

Jordan calls Debbie Holman, her teaching partner, “the crown jewel of my mentoring. You know you’ve succeeded when the student surpasses the teacher.”

Holman doesn’t like to think about teaching without Jordan. “I think we were sisters in another life,” she says. It was Holman who instigated the NSTA award and along with WMS science teacher Katie Zenisek, will be in Nashville to see Jordan receive it.

Jordan won’t be far away when school starts next fall ,and chances are she’ll be easily enticed into the classrooms at WMS to share the latest things she’s learned.

“I’m entering a new chapter in my life,” she says. “We’ll see how it unfolds.”

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