President Obama honors top math, science teachers

PAEMST recipents - Shelby Aaberg of Nebraska circled in green (photo courtesy of NSF)
PAEMST recipents - Shelby Aaberg of Nebraska circled in green (photo courtesy of NSF)

More than 100 recipients of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) were honored this past week in Washington, D.C. Among them was Shelby Aaberg, a Noyce Master Teacher at Scottsbluff High School (circled in green in photo).

These awards are the highest honor bestowed by the government on K-12 mathematics and science teachers in the U.S. The National Science Foundation (NSF) receives recommendations from states and territories of some of their best and most inspiring teachers for the award. NSF reviews the submissions and forwards recommendations to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). On July 1, President Obama announced this latest group of awardees.

NSF had a chance to talk briefly with several of them about how they make math and science real for their students. Watch their interviews on the NSF YouTube site.

This year's awardees, all 7-12th grade teachers, received $10,000 from NSF and an expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to experience three days of exciting and memorable activities. Some highlights:

*A series of professional development sessions, including one on teacher leadership with Jay Labov, senior advisor from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
*A special dinner where awardees were joined by Jo Handelsman, associate director for science from OSTP.
*A day at NSF to learn more about the agency's cross-cutting science and engineering research and education endeavors. Awardees engaged in foundation-supported activities related to: the International Year of Light; Making and Learning; Big Data; Diversity and Inclusion; Understanding the Brain; and Exploring Earth and Cosmos. Awardees had the opportunity to hear from and to speak to Nobel Laureate William Phillips from the University of Maryland; OSTP's Chief Data Scientist Dhanurjay “DJ” Patil; nationally-recognized teacher workforce expert Richard Ingersoll from the University of Pennsylvania; other guest speakers and NSF staff.
*An awards ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building, where NSF Director France Córdova and OSTP's Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith addressed the teachers. Almost 400 guests were present, including Congressman Mike Honda of California.
*A meeting with S. James Gates, John S. Toll Professor of Physics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
*Professional development activities led by OSTP at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
*A visit to the White House where the teachers were personally congratulated by President Barack Obama.
*A breakfast with several alumni leaders, such as Carolyn Hayes, past PAEMST awardee and current president of the National Science Teachers Association.

NSF has had the honor of administering the PAEMST program on behalf of OSTP since 1983. Awards alternate between K-6 and 7-12 grade teachers each year. Applications for K-6 grade teachers open in the fall. Nominations are accepted at