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Alumnus Named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year Award

UMD alumnus and Wisc. Teacher of the Year Rick Erickson

Rick Erickson performing a science experiment  

"I have been fortunate to have found my passion, public school teaching,” said Rick Erickson. “It's not an easy job, but I love it; and I love connecting with my students. Find your passion, and pursue it; and at the same time, try to keep that passion in balance with all of life's other demands."

Erickson, a UMD alumnus, has received the 2014 Wisconsin High School Teacher of the Year award. He teaches chemistry, physics, and alternative education at Bayfield High School in Bayfield, Wisc. He graduated from UMD in 1984 with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Teaching Physical Science.

Erickson reinforces science concepts with his students by using the local environment. He uses the high school science textbook as a guideline and creates his own curriculum.

“Many of the UMD professors used demonstrations in the classroom to help the students learn science concepts,” said Erickson. “They also used Lake Superior and the surrounding area to give examples that were locally-based.”

Part of his teaching style was inspired by retired UMD Chemistry Professor Ron Caple. Erickson took Caple’s Organic Chemistry class.

“He would have a certain topic on the syllabus which he would want to cover that day,” said Erickson. “He would say ‘I want you to learn that topic. It doesn't matter if it takes 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or the full 50 minutes.’ I knew what he wanted me to learn and so my attention was focused on learning that. I have tried mimic some of that thinking in my teaching. I have a topic and try to focus on that topic for that day. I won’t try to supplement other things in that time slot or move to the next topic. Instead I will use the time, if we end early, to reinforce that topic or work on other projects with the students.”

Erickson created a partnership with the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Bayfield students in 2011. Erickson's students have helped build boardwalks on the mainland sea caves trail, cleared trails on Basswood Island, removed invasive plants, harvested the garden on Raspberry Island, prepared the Raspberry Island Lighthouse for the winter season, developed a lighthouse physics science demonstration program, and conducted scientific research within the park.

“People learn more when they can connect it to something they know,” said Erickson. “It's more effective to connect science to the place where the students live, because they can relate to the places around them. I teach physics and chemistry by relating it to Lake Superior and the surrounding community, because it's the place they grew up in.”

Erickson created a mentoring program where older students teach younger students through educational kits of Erickson’s own making. There are seven to eight science program kits in suitcases. They teach science concepts like magnetism, light, static electricity, and others.  All of the kits are stored in a central location in Ashland, Wisc., and are used in schools all over the region. Early in the year, or before the school years starts, the Bayfield students conduct a workshop to teach other students from different schools around the region how to use the kits and teach with them.

He taught in Mahtomedi High School from 1984 to 1994. In 1991 he was selected Mahtomedi Teacher of the Year. He was also one of seven finalists for the Minnesota Teacher of the Year in 1991. He started to work at Bayfield High School in 1994. In 2003, he was awarded the Excellence in Science Education Award from the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers. Erickson also received the 2013 Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship Award.

Erickson will receive the National Education Association (NEA)  Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence on Feb. 13. at the NEA Gala in Washington, D.C. This award recognizes the nation’s top educators. He is also is one of five finalist for the NEA Foundation Teaching Excellence Award.


Written by Katarina Menze, December 2014.


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