FARMINGTON — For two Farmington teachers, being honored as science teachers of the year was a surprise neither expected, but as old friends, they couldn't be happier for each other.

The New Mexico Academy of Science selected Vickie Funk-Sheley, a teacher at Tibbets Middle School and Gail Silva, a teacher at Piedra Vista High School as Outstanding Science Teachers of the Year.

Funk-Sheley said the academy representative who called to tell her about the award said Farmington Municipal Schools had another distinct honor.

"When they called, I was so shocked," Funk-Sheley said. "(He) said for the first time ever since they started giving these awards, the high school teacher and middle school teacher were in the same school district. Never happened before."

Silva was just as surprised when she found out that she had won the award and that Funk-Sheley also was being honored. The pair taught together at Hermosa Middle School for a number of years.

"It was a shock, I had no idea I was nominated," Silva said. "Our principal (Ann Gattis) didn't tell me. She said, "I didn't tell you I nominated you in case you didn't win.'"

Gattis was proud of Silva for being selected for her work as the honors and AP biology teacher at Piedra Vista.

"She does an excellent job," Gattis said. "She really believes in hands-on science. She uses that in her classroom and it motivates the students to get excited."

Tibbets Principal Karen Brown said Funk-Sheley also takes a hands-on approach to teaching sixth grade science.


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"She has really taken our school very far with science," Brown said. "Some of the things she has done for us include developing writing and vocab in science with journaling and strong vocab instruction."

Brown listed a number of activities students in Funk-Sheley's classroom have embarked on, including dioramas, 3-D posters and Jello molds.

"I went looking for her one day and I found her outside with the kids on their tummies, identifying leaves," Brown said.

Funk-Sheley was having her students look at soil samples outside as an example of how the abiotic and biotic soil factors occur inside the samples. Students then sketched and labeled the different components of the soil and had them color it with colored pencils.

"If we can go outside and see it, I prefer we go out and see it," Funk-Sheley said. "If we can do it hands-on, I prefer we experience it."

"I try and have a nice and moderate approach, where, yes, we need to learn our book and understand it and, yes, we need to write about it and explain our thinking but we also need to touch it, feel it and experience it."

Working with her honors and AP Biology students, Silva likes to see her students getting dirty and hands-on.

"They do work out of a textbook but don't truly learn it until they experience it and do it themselves," Silva said.

In a lesson on how enzymes work, Silva had them learn initial background knowledge about the subject, then set them loose in the lab to develop a test to prove what they learned. The students were told to use their problem-solving skills, to figure out a method to prove results that matched up with what they studied in the textbook.

"I have them do a model/lab activity first, before reading, so they have something concrete, something seen," Silva said.

"A lot of kids are freaked out by science, by the big words and textbooks. When I was a student, I didn't care for science too much when I was taught like that, just reading a book and answering questions. The teachers who took time to do labs with us, that's when I actually understood what was going on."

Funk-Sheley and Silva will receive their awards Dec. 1 at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science in Albuquerque.