LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Susan Duncan

Position: Science Teacher
School: Meadow Park Middle School
School District: Beaverton School District
City, State: Beaverton, OR

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Susan Duncan was nominated by her district science specialist, Susan Holveck. They've worked with one another for 14 years. Together, they developed the rigorous curriculum for Summa Academy, which is an option program for highly gifted students in the Beaverton School District.

Ms. Duncan has used all of her talents to create a learning environment that is student-centered and inquiry-based. Her obvious love of students and teaching is evident the minute you walk into her classroom. Her love and passion for science has resulted in many of her students being inspired to choose science and engineering as a career. Many of her students have gone on to distinguished careers and credit her for that outcome. 

"Susan is the smartest and kindest teacher that I know," Holveck said. "She utilizes a wide range of teaching practices that meet the needs of all the varied learning styles found in her classroom."

Ms. Duncan actively incorporates the latest technologies to enhance student engagement and achievement. When students are absent, she has the class record the labs on iPads for those who missed it. When absent students return to class, they can view these recordings and not miss out on the active learning and instruction that was given while they were gone. These recordings are also shared, along with other curriculum that she has developed, on a new district intranet that will help her colleagues transition to the Next Generation Science Standards.

Ms. Duncan regularly uses Vernier Digital Probeware in her classroom and in the field to gather meaningful and authentic data that truly engages students in learning about the scientific process and the nature of science. In addition, Ms. Duncan provides multiple field trip opportunities for students; trips to Ape Caves, Portland State University, Hopkins Tree Farm, and the Sandy River. These trips have had a positive impact on student learning and their understanding of science as a vibrant, active, and creative field. Ms. Duncan is truly passionate about is getting students outside. She has been active at the school, district and state levels to ensure that every student in Oregon has an Outdoor School experience.

At the school level, she ensures that students have the resources they need to attend Outdoor School by actively pursuing grants to help supplement the costs, so that every student can attend regardless of their income. Ms. Duncan also uses those grant funds to purchase camping supplies such as sleeping bags for students who do not have them. At the district level, she shares her created curriculum to support teachers both before they take students to Outdoor School and after they return. She also shares her ideas and resources to help them with the tremendous work load involved in taking students to Outdoor School for 3 - 5 days. At the state level, she was one of the strongest advocates for requiring all students to attend Outdoor School in either the 5th or 6th grade, and she provides the funding for that. In the future, she will be advising the State Coordinator for the Outdoor School initiative on its implementation. 

Ms. Duncan is an expert in getting parents and other community volunteers involved in the classroom. For example, she brings in scientists and practitioners from all science fields to review her students’ research projects. These experts give students constructive, technical, and informative feedback. On every field trip, Ms. Duncan has made an effort to provide students with an expert audience so they can share what they have learned. By exposing students to adults who work in the various fields of science, she is demonstrating the potential for science as a career choice. Students also rise to the occasion by having to report their findings to experts and support their ideas and thinking, making the experience authentic and relevant. 

Ms. Duncan is extremely collaborative and is able to get various groups of people working together towards a common goal. She brings this quality to her classroom, school and district. In addition, Ms. Duncan has experience working with diverse groups of students. She has worked with multiple grade levels, in heterogeneous classrooms, with at risk students, and with the TAG population. She has run after school programs like MESA, which is targeted towards at-risk minority students, as well as Lego Robotics, which is open to any student in her school. Ms. Duncan brings teams of students to compete in the Science Bowl and Science Olympiad competitions. She brought one of her Science Bowl teams to compete at the National Science Bowl competition in Washington DC, as they won the regional competition. This is a great accomplishment and is an outward sign of her dedication as a teacher and mentor.

"Susan builds strong relationships with each of her students," Holveck said. "She truly understands them and how they learn. She helps new teachers reach children in a personal way, building essential relationships where students will really begin to learn. This relationship building and active communication is a skill that Susan also uses with other teachers and other employees in the building. She really is a people person."

"Susan set high standards of excellence for herself, and helps others to achieve those standards," Holveck continued. "She takes on leadership roles within her team, her department, her building, and the district. She is an amazing classroom teacher. She is, in fact, the best teacher that I know."

Susan Duncan in the News:
4 Oregon Teachers Nominated For LifeChanger Of The Year Award