Timothy Stephenson: Environmental champion gets students excited for science

Year: 2018 – Province: British Columbia

Transcription – Timothy Stephenson-2018 Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence

[Black screen fades up to close-up of man in interview setting, against a mottled background. Music playing.]

[Caption: Tim Stephenson, Walnut Grove Secondary School]

Timothy Stephenson: The number one factor that contributes to student learning really is their level of comfortability in the classroom. If they are in the classroom and feeling comfortable, they’re going to learn. And, I think that if I can make them feel that way, I’ve done my job and they’re going to walk away learning.

[Tim speaking in interview setting alternates with voice over accompanied by still photos, as follows: Tim standing in front of students in class, holding models of two planets, each on a stick; and Tim and two students looking at and pointing to several aquariums.]

Timothy Stephenson: When students come into my classroom, right away I want them to understand, ‘This is not going to be what you’re expecting.’ I want to be letting the students know that I want to hear from them. I want to ask them, ‘How are you doing? What’s your day been like?’

[Tim speaking in interview setting cuts to voice over with video of Tim listening to fellow recipients speaking and then to a still photo of Tim and three male students looking a structure they have made.]

Timothy Stephenson: Every class that I do is a continuation of the previous one. This isn’t a series of individual lessons. They come back expecting to pick up where we left off, and it’s a continuous interaction, it’s a dialogue between us. And, I just sit and listen, and I think, ‘You’re a 14-year-old Grade 9 boy! Listen to what you’re saying!’ Unbelievable comments that come out that you just can’t believe … you have to remind yourself, these are young kids.

[Tim speaking in interview setting cuts to voice over with still photos as follows: Tim’s imaginatively decorated classroom; Tim standing with planet models in front of screen, with students listening; close-up of a hand holding a pen writing on a wooden desk already covered in scratches and writing. Cut to short video of Tim speaking to fellow recipients and then back to Tim speaking in interview setting to conclude.]

Timothy Stephenson: If I were to create the perfect space for students to learn, I’ve always pictured very organic learning. I love it when the students write on the desk. I think it’s … I think it’s something almost … they feel like they’re doing something bad, but the reality is that they’re thinking big. It has to be a place where the students like to come. They know what’s going to happen today. ‘I can’t wait to get there.’ It isn’t the tools necessarily. It’s the people. That’s the perfect learning space.

[Cut to close-up of laptop keyboard and screen, with voice over, then alternating between Tim speaking in interview setting and voice over accompanied by video and still photos, as follows: close-up of smart phone in someone’s hand, which then opens Twitter; Tim’s Twitter feed scrolling on computer screen; Tim with the planet models in his classroom.]

Timothy Stephenson: Technology, to me, is this: If teachers don’t have an online presence, I think they need to, because that’s where the most current information is. Teachers should be on Twitter. If you follow the right people, you’re going to be picking up on the latest and greatest information in your field. You have to start fresh. It has to be you. It can’t be somebody else’s resources. Put the textbooks away. Get rid of the binders. Develop your own material. Learn your one thing. Speak to the kids on a level that they can connect with. You know, want to teach with the students, ask them questions as well. And, these are things that … you’ll have a good career if you get into your area and stay current.

[Fade to black.]

[Cut to white screen, with the Government of Canada FIP followed by the Canada Wordmark.]

Certificate of Excellence Recipient

Timothy Stephenson

Walnut Grove Secondary School
8919 Walnut Grove Drive
Langley BC V1M 2N7

School telephone: 604-882-0220
School website:http://wgss.ca/


Subjects and grades taught: Science 9, Astronomy 11, Chemistry 12

Everybody is born a scientist, Tim Stephenson says. In his work as a teacher and department head, he shapes science teaching to encourage students to engage in science 24 hours a day. At the same time, he is a proponent of information and communications technologies, and was writing about their benefits in the early 1990s.

Teaching approach

Tim seeks to destroy the idea that science is only for “the smartest of the smart” by bringing science to life through real-life stories that involve science, discussing rather than lecturing, and teaching everyone that they can and should get involved with science, since it touches every aspect of life.

In the Classroom

  • Encourages students to be at home with science: students learn to see solar panels, lithium batteries and telescopes as familiar and useful tools for learning because they are right there in the classroom with them
  • Extends opportunities for learning beyond his classes: his SnapChat stories about chemistry and space get students excitedly discussing science in the halls; by following his Twitter account, students stay on top of world events; star parties bring students to school at night to study the sky
  • Encourages “Eureka” moments through hands-on projects: Grade 9 students monitor a local stream, while Grade 12 act as mentors and advisors on water chemistry; students use four school fish tanks for research and experiments related to ocean temperatures and water quality
  • Integrates environmental awareness with science: students learn techniques for measuring air pollution; conferences bring students and environmental experts together to discuss science-related topics; the student-led Green Team seeks to make the school an environmental leader

Outstanding achievements

  • Created only astronomy course in school district, which students flock to; course led to public outreach opportunities; Tim is now education chair for the Royal Astronomical Society in Vancouver
  • Inspired by Tim, students launched the Engineering Club, meeting regularly after school to transform single-use plastic items into moulds for parts of creations they then design and build
  • Coordinated science-based field trip to Hawaii to teach students about geology, astronomy, marine biology, agriculture, and the history and culture of Hawaii
  • Was featured at a local TEDx event, speaking about the importance of teachers, the near future of the environmental sciences, and the joy of learning

Rave reviews

"[Mr. Stephenson] is a role model that many students including myself look up to, not just as a teacher, but as a true educator who guides students as we explore the many experiences life has to offer."