Baker teacher named finalist for Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science

Emma Kahn, News Writing Editor




Most first grade classes consist of finger painting, reading groups and arithmetic. Laura Richardson’s first grade class consists of a room full of live insects, lessons on coding and robotics and video chats with classrooms in China.

Laura Richardson, a first grade teacher at Baker Elementary School, is one of two Massachusetts finalists for the 2016 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science (PAEMST). Richardson’s work with insects earned her a nomination for the prestigious award.

Richardson said she enjoys teaching first grade because she believes it is a pivotal time in a child’s life.

listen“It’s a really special time in their lives. The world is changing for them and the code of literacy is broken open for them,” Richardson said. “They’re able to use their skills of inquiry to start to learn about the science that’s all around them.”

According to Christine Bates, a first grade teacher at Baker who was also Richardson’s student teacher during the 2009-10 school year, Richardson’s students experience these changes largely because of Richardson herself.

listen“She’s excited about class, so they build off of her enthusiasm for the subject and for learning in general,” Bates said. “As a result, the kids in her room feel that they are just learners. They are here to learn and to work together, and the outcomes that she gets are really amazing.”

It’s a really special time in their lives. Their world is changing and the code of literacy is broken open for them.”

— Laura Richardson

According to Richardson, science is an incredible way to let all students learn, including Brookline’s vast international community, because of how universal it is.

“Science is so inquisitive and hands-on that every child can look, for example, at an insect larvae, have an observation and draw a picture,” Richardson said. “As we introduce vocabulary, we’ll have pictures of words for children who have different language backgrounds so they can access it. They’re able to be successful and to have that sense of wonder while being part of it.”

According to Bates, Richardson is a perpetual learner, which helps her design new and interesting things for her class. Richardson attends the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston every year, where she learned about coding and Twitter.

listen“Every year, she took something away from that tech conference and then was such an expert in it by the time the next conference rolled around that they wanted her to present about all the amazing things that she’s done,” Bates said.

According to the PAEMST website, “PAEMST are the nation’s highest honors for teachers of mathematics and science (including computer science). Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities, and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education.”

Emma Kahn/Sagamore Staff

Richardson’s application for the award focuses on her work with insects. For Richardson, the study of insects is important because it can be applied throughout a student’s education.

“It also focuses on comparisons. If you were to take a look at the standards from kindergarten all the way through high school, you would see that being able to compare phenomena is a common thread throughout,” Richardson explained.

According to Bates, Richardson’s classroom was filled with insects, something that would have daunted other teachers.

“She had all these insects, and we do an insect unit. We get butterflies or mealworms, but she had other insects in here, and they were all growing, and they were all interacting with each other. It was so neat,” Bates recalled.

Richardson said she is elated to have been chosen as one of the two finalists for Massachusetts and that it is the biggest honor of her career.

“If I do win, I’ll get to go to the White House. I’ll get to be part of some really special workshops and trainings,” Richardson said. “And even just from my nomination, next year I’m going to be part of a cabinet for the state of Massachusetts, to have my input and my opinions heard on matters of education.”

Next year I’m going to be part of a cabinet for the state of Massachusetts, to have my input and my opinions heard on matters of education.”

— Laura Richardson

According to Richardson, the process of applying for the award was long, but it was enlightening to reflect upon herself.

listen“I have a better sense of not only where students come from in their learning, but where they are going, because the process made me examine carefully the subsequent standards that children will have to meet,” Richardson said. “Because of that, I am even more mindful, and I think that it has improved my teaching.”

Bates believes that Richardson’s passion, creativity and innovation makes her a perfect match for the award.

“From what I understand from the award, it’s given to someone who’s really pushing the boundaries of what we think of for science, really bringing the best teaching practices that we have every time they’re teaching, and sparking kids’ creativity with science, making them see themselves as scientists, but really pushing themselves in those areas,” Bates said. “That’s really Laura to a T.”

Read Richardson’s class blog here.