City teacher lands special recognition

  • Jul. 3, 2013 4:24 p.m.

Red Deer teacher Wade Groenewegen has capped off his school year on a special note.

Last week, Groenewegen, a math and science teacher at St. Patrick’s Community School, received a 2013 Teacher Award sponsored by The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA.)

He was one of 16 teachers province-wide to receive the honour, which included a cash prize of $2,000 to be used to promote science and math education in the school.

It was something of a surprise, and Groenewegen, who has been described as helping to make math not such an abstract subject, was appreciative of the honour.

This fall, he’ll be starting his 10th year of teaching.

He’s also big on bringing the intricacies and mysteries of science more down to earth and accessible, largely through an optional course he teaches called Weird Science.

“The award is about promoting fun and interest in math and science,” he said.

In Weird Science, students do everything from building bottle rockets to flight units where they study aerodynamics via paper airplanes and the architectural capabilities of bridges through models built from things like toothpicks, straws and popsicle sticks. “We’ve tested the force of what they can hold so again, quite often it’s about figuring out what success is and building to it.”

“It’s also not so much about what they’re doing as it is about the scientific principles,” he said. Another plus to the course is that there is the time to carry out these experiments, whereas in a conventional science class it would be virtually impossible to do so.

“There are so many facts and so many ideas to learn, that taking two weeks to do a project really well is sometimes a real time constraint.”

Meanwhile, as to the $2,000, he’s considering a few ideas such as the purchase of calculators for students. It wouldn’t take up the total of the funds, but it’s something he’d like to do. “Other than that, I’m kind of at a loss because my big idea just got covered by something else.”

That idea was the purchase of cup stacks which involves stacking specialized plastic cups in specific sequences in as little time as possible. Participants of sport stacking stack cups in pre-determined sequences, competing against the clock or another player.

“It’s considered a physical education tool, but I’ve put in the classroom. It’s really amazing. You stack cups in patterns, and (there are) kids that are lightning fast. I attach that to learning – they have to do a math problem so they stack the cups up; do another math problem and stack the cups down. They’re linking right and left brain movement and kinesthetic learning.

“It was something we have been experimenting with all spring.”

For Groenewegen, teaching provides a rich sense of fulfillment. “It’s my gift and what I’m best at – working with kids. And I love to see the growth in it. I like to see how kids change in a year.”

The APEGA Teacher Awards program celebrates outstanding math and science teachers in elementary, junior and senior high schools for demonstrated excellence in shaping the intellectual and creative development of students and for their outstanding efforts to ‘make school cool’.