BOZEMAN -- A Montana State University graduate who teaches earth science and chemistry at Billings Senior High School has been named the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year.
Craig Beals, a 2005 graduate in biology and broadfield science, was selected by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation based in Helena. He will be honored Thursday, Oct. 16, in conjunction with the annual MEA-MFT Educator’s Conference in Missoula. During the coming year, he will serve as an ambassador for public education, represent Montana in the National Teacher of the Year program, and attend numerous national events. Among other things, he and the other 49 Teachers of the Year will meet President Obama and share their thoughts on education.
“I’m just absolutely thrilled, overwhelmed and humbled,” Beals said. “I’m so honored that I get to show the public the amazing things going on in public schools across Montana.”
A die-hard Bobcat fan and life-long member of the MSU Alumni Foundation, Beals said he was inspired to pursue both science and teaching by MSU professor Greg Francis who demonstrates the principles of physics by such memorable feats as lying on a bed of nails, facing down a bowling ball pendulum and crumbling carnations after dipping them in liquid nitrogen.
“He made science, learning and teaching exciting,” Beals said. “I was completely enamored with what he was doing.”
Beals said he wasn’t an exceptional student in high school, but that changed at MSU.
“The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I kept meeting more people who kept inspiring me more,” he said.
Although he could work in many scientific fields, Beals said he is most fascinated by the science of teaching. He wants people to know that teachers are top-notch professionals in their fields who have chosen to devote their lives to young people. His goal as a teacher is to inspire students to explore science and enjoy the world around them.
“He makes science accessible and fun,” said Dan Bartsch, chair of the science department at Billings Senior.
Among other things, Beals inspired his students to design and build the largest cardboard geodesic dome planetarium in the world, which was featured in a national journal, Bartsch said. Hundreds of high school and elementary students view it every year and learn about geometry and astronomy.
Beals also created a chemistry module called “The Chemistry of Coffee” to help students connect to chemistry in a tangible way. They explored the chemistry of coffee by roasting raw green beans, controlling variables, collecting data and tasting their results.
Beal has inspired hundreds of students to develop inquiry-based independent study projects, exploring and collecting data on anything that interests them and presenting results at a community showcase, Bartsch said. He also believes in getting his students involved in the community. For example, he created the Earth Science Community Action ProjEct (ESCAPE), where students use their science skills to help the Billings community. His students have helped improve local parks, recommended new zoning, and contributed valuable water quality data to a national database for scientific research.
“Students love his classes because they are treated like individuals,” Bartsch said. “And they work exceptionally hard for him because he gets them to believe not only in the process of scientific exploration, but in themselves as well.”
Beals said he believes that building strong relationships between teachers and students is key to student success. That includes listening to students and asking how they are. Beals also asked one of his cousins, MSU graduate Justin Lindh, to develop an iPad app so he could get to know his students better.
“It’s not in the job description, but it’s one of the most important things a teacher can do,” Beals said of doing even small things to change the culture of the classroom and school. “We can’t do enough of it.”
MSU is where he learned how to enjoy learning, and he loves to return there with his wife, Christi, and two young children, Beals said. Christi Beals graduated from MSU in nursing in 2002 and business administration in 2005. She is now chief development officer at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.
“We still very much bleed the blue and gold,” Beals said. “It’s our home away from home.”
To read a related article and view a TED talk that Beals gave in Bozeman, go to http://billingsgazette.com/news/local/education/billings-senior-science-teacher-named-teacher-of-the-year/article_4f00c3f1-9179-5aba-aa79-a38ca97d5714.html
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or email@example.com