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Approach earns national honors

Pleasant View home to a top teacher

July 22, 2009

Franklin — Curiosity and discovery are two traits that Pleasant View Elementary School teacher Karen Nesbit tries to instill in her students every day.

She's constantly asking them why and how things happen - instead of the other way around - to develop the natural wonder children already have.

As a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, Nesbit makes her lessons creative and fun. Specifically, she strives to make science a subject of inquiry and projects, not textbooks.

This method, which she says focuses on uncovering, has led her to be recognized as one of the top science teachers in the country. Nesbit is one of 87 elementary teachers who this month won a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

The award is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th-grade math or science teacher can receive, according to the National Science Foundation, which administers the award with the White House.

The winners will receive an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., this fall for a White House awards ceremony as well as $10,000.

The award emphasizes the importance of a good math and science education beginning in kindergarten and continuing through high school, said Maria Zacharias, a spokeswoman for the NSF.

"These teachers held the students' interest and got them excited about the subject," Zacharias said.

Up to 108 teachers may receive the award each year. They can nominate themselves or be nominated by students, parents, colleagues or supervisors. Sharon Hushek, a sixth-grade teacher at Ben Franklin Elementary School, nominated Nesbit, the only winner from Wisconsin this year.

"She's a fabulous teacher," Hushek said.

To motivate her students, Nesbit, who is about to start her third year at Pleasant View, uses her own passion for science and scientific thinking.

"It's fascinating to watch how the brain works and how kids make decisions," she said.

Instead of being the boss, she prefers to be the coach, referring to herself as the "learner in charge" instead of the teacher. She encourages them to constantly question and test things.

"Her classroom reflects the philosophy that learning is fun," Zacharias said.

Nesbit graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a bachelor's degree in early childhood and received a master's degree in education at Aurora University. She has been teaching for more than 30 years.

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