Celebrate Carlyn Nichols, 2018 Kenai BP Teacher of Excellence

Kodiak, Alaska

“It’s an exciting time to be an educator. Through personalized learning and maker education I get to be a facilitator of experiences and mentor in learning rather than a conduit of information and “giver of tests”. I love watching students take ownership of their learning and pursue their curiosities.  I really believe one of the greatest gifts we can bestow upon students is the ability to problem solve, innovate and collaborate. And we must find meaningful and engaging ways to develop those skills. I feel successful if my students can make connections to the science in their everyday lives through these authentic activities.” –Carlyn Nichols

Ms. Carlyn Nichols teaches science at Seward Middle School. She has been a teacher for 13 years, all in Alaska.

One of the students at Seward Middle School wrote, “When you walk into Ms. Nichols’ classroom, you feel safe and ready to learn. She loves having deep conversations with her class. If a student asks an interesting question, her face lights up with excitement, and you know she’s about to give you the best answer possible.”

Ms. Nichols is, in her own words, a goofy, enthusiastic teacher who loves to geek out on science. She showers her students with humor and energy, while also pushing them. She is tasked with getting middle schoolers ready for the more-advanced academics of high school. So, her emphasis is less on memorizing information and more on self-guided problem solving.

“I expect and teach self-reliance, initiative and grit,” she tells us. “It’s my belief that the greatest gift I can give my students is the ability to think for themselves.”

She regularly takes her classes beyond books and tests. Her students learn to experiment, think critically, ask hard questions and use evidence. Her approach to science is through inquiry and exploration. She states: “I believe students must experience and wrestle with scientific concepts and skills if they are to truly engage and internalize them.”

Ms. Nichols is a strong believer in using technology and challenge-based learning. She uses ed tech daily for a variety of purposes. Her students can often be found viewing her lectures and running simulations on their Chromebooks, recording an experiment on their phones, or producing their own digital projects with iPads.

Visit her classroom and you might find students building a zipline, extracting DNA or working with their teacher to figure out which tools they need to use.

A few years ago, Ms. Nichols began integrating more engineering into her curriculum, and now she’s infusing class with Maker components. She secured grants, used her personal professional development funds and lobbied community organizations to raise the money to stock, organize and implement the school’s new Maker Space.

“That Maker lab is my happy place,” she says, “exploring and creating with students of all abilities. Nearly every day, I ask students to create something to demonstrate their learning. We build atoms, move vehicles, make yogurt and produce movies.”

Her classroom is dynamic and diverse, and Ms. Nichols is proud that her class has the reputation of “not sitting much.”

One parent wrote: “My son had never shown a keen interest in science until he entered her classroom. Now, he can’t wait to get to her class so he can be immersed in her lessons and strike off on new adventures of discovery. When you ask your child how their day went and he replies ‘It was awesome since I had Mrs. Nichols today,’ you know that teacher is something special.”

“I believe Carlyn Nichols makes a positive impact at Seward Middle School because of the way she recognizes students as individuals,” said Jenny Martin, principal. “She wants to know their interests, their troubles, and what makes them excited. Carlyn looks to broaden the minds and lives of kids through hands-on lessons in the classroom and Elective classes she teaches. She exposes them to their surroundings through field trips in the Bay and draws their interests to careers in technology and engineering. She helps them contribute to and serve their community and is the teacher they love and remember for years.”

A graduate of the University of Denver, she received her master’s from the University of Alaska Southeast. Perhaps more important, she was born and raised–and graduated high school–in the same community where she now teaches. Seward is certainly lucky to have her at home.

“I am very proud of all our finalists for this prestigious award,” said Sean Dusek, superintendent. “They all embody the qualities we want all of our teachers to exhibit, especially in how they ensure a strong, positive relationship with each and every student. Each finalist is very deserving of this recognition and I look forward to their continued excellence and leadership in our district.”

Congratulations, Carlyn Nichols, BP Teacher of Excellence.

Kenai 2018 BP Teachers of Excellence

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