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Carthage teacher honored with PBS Innovator award

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CARTHAGE — In his seventh-grade science class at Carthage Central Middle School, Bryan H. Zevotek drew inspiration from a “PBS News Hour” program on bionic bodies to teach students about body systems.

He had students develop and build a “prosthetic” hand that functions like a human hand, capable of picking up and gripping items. The hand also had to be able to play rock-paper-scissors.

“It was a great project to introduce the biology and organ study of the body systems, but I did the entire thing online,” Mr. Zevotek said in a video submitted to PBS.

The way he organized the project earned him a first-place finish in the third annual Teacher Innovator Awards from PBS LearningMedia, a free digital media service for classrooms, and the Henry Ford, a historical museum center in Dearborn, Mich.

The award is presented to 30 kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers who are using digital media in unusual ways to advance student learning. The winners were announced April 2.

In Mr. Zevotek’s video submission, a student demonstrated the mechanical hand he made from Legos using rubber bands and strings for tendons and pencil erasers to assist with grip.

“They surprise you when you give them the freedom to do these things,” Mr. Zevotek said after learning of the win.

“I’ve seen Mr. Zevotek use technology in his classroom and I think he does a great job,” school Superintendent Peter J. Turner said. “I’m not surprised he was selected for the award. He embraces technology.”

“I don’t know if it’s the adult ADD that makes me want to explore it, but that might have something to do with it,” Mr. Zevotek said jokingly.

He is one of the top 10 teachers in the nationwide contest. In addition to a free PBS TeacherLine online professional development course, he will receive a weeklong “Innovation Immersion Experience” at the Henry Ford from July 27 to Aug. 2.

“I’m really excited about this unique opportunity to travel out to Michigan this summer and work with teachers from around the country on innovating in American education,” Mr. Zevotek said.

“I’m especially interested to see what the Henry Ford center has to offer for resources that I can use (in) my classroom. I also have to say a big thank you to PBS for the programming they’re making available to students for use in the classroom,” he said.

Mr. Zevotek uses technology on a regular basis to make science more interesting for his students and is constantly looking for inspiration. This year, rather than making all students dissect a frog, he let them dissect a virtual one. When a student “opened” the frog, there would be text saying what the organs’ purposes are.

“The yuck factor, the kids who don’t want to do the actual dissection, were OK with the virtual dissection,” he said.

When he introduces his students to ecology in a few weeks, he plans to have them use facial animation software called CrazyTalk to explain how certain animals live and survive, rather than standing in the front of the classroom with a PowerPoint presentation.

Mr. Zevotek has been a teacher in the Carthage Central School District for 15 years and is a member of its technology committee.

To learn more about Mr. Zevotek’s project, go to his website at www.mrzontv.com, or visit the 2012 Teacher Innovators Awards section at www.pbs.org/teachers/.

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