As Appearing in the June 2009 AAPG EXPLORER
By KEN MILAM
Ty Robinson may keep his students down to earth, but recently he sounded like he was walking on air.
The reason for the elation: He had been named AAPG’s K-12 Teacher of the Year.
Granted, the Provo (Utah) High School teacher has collected several honors in his 22 years as an educator, but “this is the best one I ever had,” he said.
Colleagues who nominated Robinson for the award cited his dedication, originality and enthusiasm.
Robinson in turn cited his fabulous state as part of the reason.
Geologically, “Utah is a fantastic place,” he said, with spectacular displays of the earth’s mechanisms visible at almost every turn.
“It’s a crime not to go into the field when you live in a state like Utah,” he said.
And to back it up, Robinson takes students on 30-plus field trips each year.
“Next month we’re going to trench a fault in a farmer’s field,” he said, “to measure how faults move.
“We do mass wasting studies ... strike and dip,” he added. “It’s not high tech, but I like to have class time applied in the field. Geology is a lot of things.”
For example, one regular field trip is to a U.S. Synthetic plant, which produces diamonds from diamond dust for drill bits and other uses.
Robinson believes the state’s education system is strong in the sciences.
“The state requires earth systems to be taught at the freshman level ... and at least 10 high schools have geology classes,” he said.
As a past president of the Utah Science Teachers Association, Robinson is proud of the state’s support for science; state law mandates “evolution is to be taught in the Utah education system,” he said.
“There’s quite a bit of support in Utah,” he said. “We teach science, and that’s the way it goes. We teach based on scientific evidence – evolution is backed by the best evidence, which I’m glad about,” he said.
When “a few state senators tried to sneak intelligent design” into the curriculum, “we beat it – we fought it,” Robinson said.
“We have a very strong teachers association – we’re very lucky in that aspect,” he said.
Robinson’s stated goal is to teach so that “students can really enjoy learning.
“Science is all around us,” he likes to say. “I want to show them how to reason and use the scientific process ... (as) it applies to real life.”
His own favorite? “I love carbonate rocks like crazy,” he said.
A highlight is using stratigraphy to teach students “to use logic to date the age of the earth.”
Robinson said about 10 of his former students have gone on to pursue degrees and/or careers in science fields.
One female graduate is in the field of environmental geology through the Bureau of Land management, he said. Another, a sophomore at Brigham Young University, is majoring in seismology and a third plans to enter oil exploration after completing a church mission.
Robinson’s enthusiasm and talents for teaching impress colleagues as well as students.
Fellow science teacher Ryan Rasmussen, who has worked with Robinson for the eight years Robinson has been at Provo High, said of him, “I do not know a teacher who works harder and longer than Ty. He is constantly working one-on-one with students involving them in a variety of research projects.”
Robinson volunteers for various science fair duties and has developed computer-based lessons and graphics that he has shared with other teachers, Rasmussen added.
“Ty helps students see that science research is just as viable a means of getting scholarships to major universities as athletics or any other extra curricular activity,” Rasmussen said.
Robinson’s principal, Samuel L. Ray, also wrote in support of Robinson’s nomination, partly because Robinson has initiated several popular science programs and classes.
Ray cited Concurrent Enrollment Geology, a class emphasizing field studies that allows students to receive credit for the class at Utah Valley University.
“Many of his students have presented their research at professional research symposiums,” Ray said, “and have received top awards and scholarships at international science fairs.”