The self-professed nature lover and Cobb County elementary teacher will be recognized by President Barack Obama next year for her excellence in teaching science and math.
Garvin found out last Friday she was named the 2012 winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, given to one of just 102 teachers in the country.
Jeanne Rast of Hapeville was awarded the honor for math.
Garvin inspired by science and math
Garvin grew up in Powder Springs and has always loved being outdoors and exploring.
“I love understanding why and how things work,” she said.
She has a pilot’s license, is scuba certified and has made it through the final rounds to be trained as a teacher astronaut for NASA three times.
Garvin said she watched her brother grow up hating school because he had a learning disability, and wanted to keep kids in school and excited about learning.
She loves her job, and maintains a blog at vaughanrockets.typepad.com, where she posts pictures and updates of projects going on in her classroom.
Her teaching motto is posted on the blog, and reads:
“I will help you learn to dream and set goals, show you that your dreams can be a reality, and then equip you with the attitudes and skills necessary to achieve those dreams.”
Garvin has been a teacher in the county school system for 21 years, and has taught at Clay, Still and Dowell elementary schools. She has been at Vaughan Elementary, in Powder Springs, for 15 years and teaches gifted classes for fourth and fifth grades.
Every chance she gets, Garvin takes her students outdoors and lets them learn with their hands. She teaches lessons on outdoor survival, aviation, early space history and water conservation, and enjoys watching her students get inspired by real-world activities.
Science by inquiry
Instead of assigning chapters of a book to her students, she teaches “science by inquiry.” Garvin challenges her students to figure out how things work by giving them the freedom to explore a process with their hands.
“I get kids out in a river. I take them to scuba dive. I really want them involved in things that are real world and make a difference,” she said.
Garvin believes the future of science education lies outside of the traditional classroom environment.
“Teaching science in the future does not look like a textbook,” Garvin said, “These days you can find any fact in two seconds on the Internet. We need to focus more on the exploration, finding out how and why things work,” instead of on the facts.
She is frustrated the nation seems to be “losing kids,” who have an interest in science in elementary school, but hate both math and science by high school.
“I feel like we lose kids in their love of learning. Our country is in a lot of trouble in keeping kids, especially female, interested in science,” she said.
She is always encouraged to get letters and emails from former students who have gone on to become pilots, surgeons and engineers, and many continue to write to her throughout their careers.
In their notes and emails, former students write they were inspired by a particular lesson Garvin had taught them years before, and she has maintained numerous relationships with students who excel in science-related fields across the country.
Excited to meet the president
A parent of one of her former students nominated Garvin for the national award, which selects one math and one science teacher per state to be recognized at the White House.
The application process took six months to complete, and Garvin had to film herself teaching and write multiple essays about the topics she was teaching her students and her teaching methods.
Garvin will be flown to Washington, D.C. in the coming two months to meet with the president and members of the State Department.
She said she is excited for the opportunity and is honored her passion for teaching will be recognized.
Garvin won $10,000 for her achievement, a definite perk, she said.
This isn’t the first state or national recognition Garvin has received. Among dozens of awards listen on her resume, Garvin has been recognized by The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics with the Aeronautics Educator Award in 2010. Georgia named her the Science Teacher of the Year in 2003, and the Aerospace Education Foundation named Garvin the Presidential Advisor for Scholarship for the 2001-02 school year.
Garvin has also traveled to Devon Island, Canada, to participate in Artic Circle research in 2009. She worked on coral reef conservation in Belize in 2006, and astrobiology in Belize in 2006.
“I love trying new things, visiting new places and sampling everything life has to offer,” both inside and outside the classroom, she said.