Vernier Software and Technology
Vernier Software & Technology

2009 Vernier/NSTA Technology Award Winners

The award, co-sponsored by Vernier and NSTA, is part of the NSTA Teacher Award Program. Each year, educators are recognized for their planned or current innovative use of data-collection technology.


Sheryl Sotelo

Monitoring the Environment in Alaska

  • Sheryl Sotelo
  • 6th Grade Teacher
  • McNeil Canyon Elementary School
  • Homer, AK


Using science is the most effective and motivating way Sheryl has found to teach students. She believes science education can be a vehicle for teaching reading, writing, and math through application. Having her students participate in field science draws in even her most reluctant learners. Sheryl pursues opportunities to link her class with local resources, agencies, and individuals whose passion and expertise for scientific learning takes root in her students. In one project, Sheryl’s students are monitoring Beaver Creek, a salmon rearing steam near the school. Her students take monthly visits to monitor water quality and do biological surveying. They compare their data to Alaska State Standards and pass along their findings to the Kenai Watershed Forum. In other projects, Sheryl has students involved in GLOBE programs (monitoring coastal regions and air and soil temperatures), a permafrost survey in association with the University of Fairbanks, and a Future LEGO League robotics program. Sheryl is currently using conventional testing equipment and looks forward to adding electronic sensors to the tools her students use.

Middle School

Chris Campbell

Why are the Fish Dead?

  • Chris Campbell
  • 7th & 8th Grade Science Teacher
  • Simsboro High School
  • Simsboro, LA


Chris teaches in a rural school in the outskirts of the parish, yet he approaches each learning experience as if the school was a science magnet school. His objective is to give students hands-on experiences in the scientific method and engineering design process so they are prepared to succeed in a STEM-related career. He believes data-collection technology in the science class can engage, motivate, and improve student learning in science, as it helps students visualize the data. When introducing data-collection technology, Chris has his students rotate through lab stations, allowing them to explore the use of probeware and data analysis software. Chris has been instrumental in developing lessons and strategies that make science come to life. He strengthens student understanding by strengthening the relevance and the opportunity for each child to experience science. As an example, when some of the fish he purchased for the school’s aquariums died, he turned the experience into a CSI-styled study in water quality and toxicity. Chris plans to expand the study to investigate local water supplies.

Kristy Gollakner

Hydrology Investigation of the Escanaba River

  • Kristy Gollakner
  • 8th Grade Science Teacher
  • Gwinn Middle School
  • Gwinn, MI


Kristy prides herself in having students learn science skills and apply them in a real-world context. With many small lakes and two Great Lakes within 50 miles from Gwinn Middle School, water quality is of local interest to her students and their families. This year, Kristy’s students are working on a project that gives them the opportunity to learn science in the field. The program, “Comparing and Contrasting Watersheds in Michigan,” has her students testing the water quality in the Escanaba River. Data her students collect are compared to data from the Rouge River Watershed in the Metro Detroit area. Her students also post their findings on the GLOBE website to share with other classes around the world. Kristy’s students experience a direct link between what they learn in school and the real-world around them. The activities foster ownership and pride toward the community in which her students live. Kristy plans to use the award to purchase additional Vernier technology so that even more of her students can become proficient with technology.

High School

Robert Benedetto

Earthworms – A Case Study in Decomposition

  • Robert Benedetto
  • Biology Teacher
  • Central Catholic High School
  • Lawrence, MA


Rob is driven to help the students of his alma mater understand how science really works. He believes the use of technology fosters a deeper understanding of the material and engages his students in the process of doing real science. The hallmark of Rob’s teaching is the combination of science as a process with a strong and rich content base. In the activity Decomposers, Rob’s students are introduced to a case study that examines the potential ecological impacts of the introduction of the earthworm to North America. Students research the carbon and nitrogen cycles and the process of decomposition. After reaching a level of mastery of these concepts, the students are guided to develop a specific scientific questions they can investigate, such as, “Do earthworms affect decomposition of leaf litter?” The students then design a controlled experiment that will allow them to quantify the decomposition rate using various sensors. Through this activity, Rob’s students participate in realistic experimental design. The students then use their experiments to support the case study with empirical data.

Sarah Southam

Energy in a Cord of Firewood

  • Sarah Southam
  • Chemistry/Physics Teacher
  • Telstar High School
  • Bethel, ME


You never enter Sarah’s classroom without first donning your safety goggles. Sarah does lots of hands-on lab activities that keep her students engaged, active, and inquisitive. She finds that having her students do labs reinforces the material she is trying to teach. Sarah scours lab and demonstration books and the web to find the perfect activity to get across a point. Finding and setting up the labs really helps Sarah learn the material. Sarah created a spin off of the Chemistry with Vernier activity “Energy of Food” she calls “Heat Content in a Cord of Wood.” The wood pellet stove industry is really taking off in Maine, as many families burn wood to keep their homes warm in the winter. This lab was inspired by her student, Patrick Gallagher, who wanted to determine the relationship between type of wood and the amount of heat produced. The activity has students calculate the amount of heat a cord of different types of wood are likely to produce based on burning small samples of the wood.

Eric Walters

Understand Your Data, Understand Your World

  • Eric Walters
  • Director of Science and Technology Education
  • Marymount School of New York
  • New York, NY


As science department chairman, Eric guides and challenges teachers to integrate computer-based data collection into their curriculum. Marymont’s program, “Understand Your Data, Understand Your World,” is an evolution of the integration of data-collection techniques within his class, the science department, and the school. Here are just some of the activities the students are doing: When studying kinematics, students analyze the motion of cars moving down Fifth Avenue and use video to analyze the motion of a Nerf dart. Students investigate the relationship between magnetic field strength and light intensity along a half-coated fluorescent tube using appropriate sensors. When investigating reflectance, Eric’s students use Google Earth to locate different surface types near the school, and then go to those locations to measure surface temperature. In their unit on sound, his students determine if the ear buds provided with their MP3 players are safe and meet industry specifications for sound-level intensity. The primary goal of the program is to introduce students to different data-collection and analysis techniques so they can better understand the world around them.


Virginia Balke

Enhancing Technical Skills with Data Loggers

  • Virginia Balke
  • Instructor
  • Delaware Technical and Community College
  • Newark, DE


While many colleges are reducing their required laboratory coursework due to budget constraints, Virginia recognizes the vital importance of developing hands-on skills and competency with a wide range of instruments, including data loggers. Virginia first implemented the use of electronic data collectors in her first year biology class. By using data loggers and graphing software, her students are able to focus on the relationships in the data instead of how to label axes. Electronic data collection works well with today’s generation of computer savvy students. Students with lower math skills gain a basic understanding of data analysis while avoiding the frustration of time consuming calculations, whereas more inquisitive students are inspired to design their own experiments. Companies that have hired Delaware Tech students have been impressed with the level of their laboratory skills and ease with instrumentation, which is due, in part, to Virginia’s use of educational technology to enhance student learning. Virginia continues to create and modify activities that use data loggers to ensure her students are best prepared for the future.

Vernier Technology Award

Seven awards are available: one elementary, two middle school, three high school, and one college level. The awards, each valued at $5,500, include $1,000 in cash, $3,000 in Vernier technology, and up to $1,500 in expenses for attending the NSTA convention.

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Past Winners

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