Laura Verhoeven is not your typical science teacher.
When Verhoeven’s students study human reproduction, she finds a pregnant woman to visit the class periodically so the students can see her body changing and ask about her experiences. Eventually, they get to meet the baby.
“I still have a very high academic expectation of my students, but I do believe school should be fun.”
Observing chickens hatching from eggs is another way Verhoeven teaches reproduction.
“We look at the embryonic development of the chicken eggs,” Verhoeven said, noting the kids often bring home what they have learned, literally. “The students usually adopt and use them for backyard chickens.”
“I’ve seen teachers do it with fish and salmon, but not chickens,” said vice principal Keith Boggs of Pacific Metchosin Technical Centre.
Verhoeven’s focus on creating hands-on learning more than merely studying text was one of the reasons the Metchosin teacher earned the 2012 Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence.
Each year only one teacher in Canada is given the award.
Whether it’s taking new approaches in the classroom or outdoors building a garden, Verhoeven wants students to learn with passion.
“Instead of talking about growing plants and agricultural systems, we go out and do it,” Verhoeven said. “When kids are up and moving they are going to retain more information.”
Verhoeven isn’t the only teacher in the school who uses this approach to education. She has teamed with fellow teachers to create project-based learning that spans various subjects.
When the Grade 9 science class studies electricity, they go to the shop and gets hands-on experience wiring circuit boards with Boggs.
“Instead of using a battery and light bulb kits, they wire up real lights and real switches,” Verhoeven said.
The Amgen Award comes with a $5,000 reward for Verhoeven, who says she’ll put the money towards tuition for a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership. The school also received $5,000 which will be put toward building a science lab for the Metchosin school.
In true fashion of the school, students will build the lab benches and shelving as part of the project-based learning.