Helene Granof, a second grade teacher at Burning Tree Elementary School, has won a 1999 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation's most prestigious honor for a K-12 science or math teacher.
Granof was among 200 teachers nationwide to receive the award after undergoing a rigorous review process. A national panel of experts in education selected four award winners from each state and extrastate jurisdiction. Granof won her award for teaching elementary science, while the other Maryland recipients won in the categories of elementary mathematics and secondary mathematics and science.
As a Presidential Award winner, Granof will be given a presidential citation and will receive a $7,500 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the national program, to be used at her school. Award winners also will receive an expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for a series of recognition events, information exchange programs and an awards ceremony.
Granof has been a second grade teacher at Burning Tree since 1983. As a school-based lead science teacher, NSF Elementary Science Project, since 1991, she helps implement new inquiry-based curricula, selecting, field testing and training teachers for new science units throughout the county.
"At the second grade level, what is most important is not conveying substantive scientific knowledge but, rather, providing a foundation on which each student can begin to see the world through a scientific lens," Granof says. "One objective is to make them receptive to take science courses; a broader objective is to give them the incentive to inquire into and explore the world around them in all its richness, variety and mystery, and to give them a sense of how exciting and rewarding it is for them to do so."
In MCPS, the core science unit for the second grade is the life cycle of the butterfly. To make the unit more meaningful, Granof couples it with a unit on honeybees to help her students learn about their differences and similarities.
Granof also adopts various strategies to help meet the needs of all of her students. One is the use of partnering and cooperative groups, in which students work with each other to achieve a common goal. Tiered instruction allows highly able students to perform tasks that address higher level expectations, while on-grade-level students are given similar tasks that have on-grade expectations and assignments for students with special needs are similarly adjusted. A third strategy makes use of parents and high school students as volunteers, who work particularly with ESOL students who may encounter difficulty in writing down their ideas. Yet another strategy makes use of computers to allow students with diverse needs to express themselves in a different medium.
Granof continues Montgomery County's strong showing in the Presidential Awards program, which was established in 1983 and which is administered by the National Science Foundation with assistance from the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Since 1989, MCPS has had eight national winners and 10 finalists for the award. Finalists for the year 2000 award have not yet been announced.