LEWISTON, Idaho – Lewis-Clark State College’s Nancy Johnston, an associate professor of chemistry, has been selected as the 2020 Idaho Innovative Educator for Scientific Ways of Knowing by the Idaho State Board of Education’s General Education Committee and Capital Educators Credit Union.
Johnston, who has worked at LC State for 17 years, received the award for her dedication to general education in Idaho and for her “exemplary work with students and other educators.” She will be honored during a virtual award ceremony on Oct. 22 and will receive a $500 honorarium and a plaque. The award ceremony usually takes place in person in Boise but because of Ada County’s coronavirus risk level, the event will be virtual this year.
The award honors a person “who is competent in scientific reasoning, adheres to a self-correcting system of inquiry (the scientific method), and relies on empirical evidence to describe, understand, and predict natural phenomena.”
To qualify for the award and meet the Scientific Ways of Knowing requirements of the general
education core, a teacher’s course must cover five objectives. Those objectives are (1) apply foundational knowledge and models of a natural or physical science to analyze and/or predict phenomena; (2) understand the scientific method and apply scientific reasoning to critically evaluate assertions; (3) interpret and communicate scientific information via written, spoken, and/or visual representations; (4) describe the relevance of specific scientific principles to the human experience; and (5) form and test a hypothesis in the laboratory, classroom, or field using discipline-specific tools and techniques for data collection
“Scientific ways of knowing involves critical thinking, logic, and problem solving,” Johnston said. “These skills are ones that all students and adults need to help them through life and future careers, and therefore necessary in general education. Chemistry is often called the central science as it connects all scientific disciplines. I love how chemistry can help solve real world problems like air quality, climate change, cures for illness, and more. There can be much misinformation on these topics and I feel a duty to teach students the science behind them so they can be informed citizens.”
Heather Moon, the former division chair for the Natural Sciences & Mathematics Division at the college, nominated Johnston for the award. Johnston said she was surprised by the honor.
“Honestly, it was completely unexpected, as there are many others worthy of it,” Johnson noted. “That said, I was thrilled to receive this award. I work tirelessly to give my students the best experience possible, both in the classroom and in the laboratory. My greatest success is seeing my students succeed and reach their goals in the classroom and beyond college.”
Johnston started at the college in 2001 and went part-time in 2003 to raise her family. She continued to teach adjunct courses in chemistry and natural sciences through 2013. She then spent two years teaching middle school math and science in Asotin before returning to LC State in 2015. She was awarded tenure and promotion last year.
“Science is hands-on and active,” Johnston said. “I use active learning in the classroom to engage the student in these skills, rather than information overloading. This includes process-oriented guided learning and use of active chemistry apps in classes. I also designed labs to answer questions that are pertinent and interesting to students, from coral acidification to blood alcohol content.”
Johnston says she enjoys teaching and mentoring students, which includes student research.
“I run an atmospheric chemistry laboratory funded by the National Institute of Health (Idaho INBRE) with focus on air quality effects of wildfires and local emissions,” she said. “I have many science majors that participate in research and this is a great way for them to learn through the process of discovery. In fact, 12 students and I just published our first scientific article together. They learned the whole process from research design and implementation to communication with the scientific community, while addressing important scientific questions.”
For more information on the award, visit https://boardofed.idaho.gov/resources/scientific-ways-of-knowing. For more information on LC State’s Natural Sciences & Mathematics Division, visit www.lcsc.edu/science.