Kyle Gray

Kyle Gray
University of Northern Iowa

2015 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching

Presented to Kyle Gray

Citation by James C. Walters

The Geoscience Education Division of the Geological Society of America has selected Dr. Kyle R. Gray as its recipient of the 2015 Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching. Dr. Gray joined the Department of Earth Science at the University of Northern Iowa in fall 2009. Although his primary teaching responsibility is the course Inquiry into Earth and Space Science, which is a course for Elementary Education majors, he has also taught the courses Elements of Weather, Earth History, Investigations in Earth and Space Science, and the graduate-level course Research Methods in Science Education. In addition, he has co-taught the course Iowa’s Geological Natural Resources, a course for in-service teachers, and this fall he is teaching a geohazards-focus section of Introduction to Geology. As the Dept. Head when Kyle was hired in 2009, I can tell you it is wonderful to see the addition of a new faculty member with such versatility. This can be very important in a small department. But the most important thing is that Kyle is a very capable instructor in all of the courses he teaches. Dr. Gray has had very positive student evaluations in his courses, generally rating in the 94-96% approval range for student satisfaction and overall effectiveness. Students often comment on his engaging method of teaching and how he is able to provide an open and positive learning environment.

Dr. Gray’s teaching style is clearly student-centered as well as constructivist. For the Inquiry into Earth and Space Science course, students are engaged in inquiry-based activities and projects in the three disciplinary areas of geology, meteorology, and astronomy, and there is no formal lecture for this course. The extensive hands-on experience for the Elementary Education majors helps prepare these teachers with not only content but also examples of activities and curricular material that will be of use to them in their careers. Kyle also has students reflect on their learning and how experiences in the course have changed their attitudes toward science and teaching science.

In the courses that do have a more traditional lecture component, Kyle’s teaching style makes extensive use of engagement activities, such as “clickers” as well as lecture tutorials, physical models, and in-class activities. Kyle’s exemplary teaching and high level of enthusiasm led to his receiving the Univ. of Northern Iowa, Liberal Arts Core, Excellence in Teaching Award in 2013.

Kyle is also heavily involved as an advisor to Earth Science Teaching majors, All Science Teaching majors, Middle School Science Teaching majors, and Science Education M.S. students. He typically has about 20 total advisees at any given time, including both undergraduate and graduate students. In addition to his numerous outreach activities in the Department of Earth Science and in Science Education, Kyle has contributed to his profession by way of his organization of topical sessions at Geological Society of American annual meetings and his work reviewing journal manuscripts. In fact, the Journal of Geoscience Education presented him with the Outstanding Reviewer award in 2012.

For all of these many achievements and his enthusiasm in the discipline, it is fitting that Kyle Gray be recognized with the 2015 Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching.

Congratulations Kyle!

top2012 Biggs Award for Excellence In Earth Science Teaching — Response by Kyle Gray

I would like to thank the Geoscience Education Division for selecting me as their 2015 Biggs award winner. I would also like to thank Siobahn Morgan for nominating me and Jim Walters for providing the citation. When I look over the list of past winners, I am truly honored to have my name included among such amazing, innovative, and creative teachers who care so much for their students. You have inspired me to dream big when it comes to teaching, and perhaps someday I’ll live up to your ideal example.

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but it may be more appropriate to say it takes a lot of gravel to make a conglomerate. With that in mind, here are a few cobbles that that have shaped my teaching career. First, I’d like to thank my parents who always encouraged my scientific curiosities, especially my stay-at-home dad who loved the outdoors and was my first guide to the geologic wonderland that is Central Washington. Those experiences provided a rich foundation of pre-existing knowledge that served me well when I started my formal geologic education.

I have also been mentored by some amazing people who modeled cutting edge, dynamic science teaching. The entire faculty at the University of Puget Sound embodied these traits in all their classes. It didn’t matter whether we were mapping basalts in Frenchman Coulee or drawing cross-sections of glacial sediments, the faculty demonstrated the value of putting students first and providing real-world experiences that often took us outside of the classroom. Matt Huffine at the Academy for Academic Excellence in Apple Valley, California was my first department head, and taught me the value of continually revising my courses and being willing to jettison a favorite lesson if another activity would better serve my students. At the university level, Gary Smith at New Mexico along with David Steer and David McConnell at Akron showed how good teaching didn’t always require lecture, and Kathie Owens provided patient guidance as only a dissertation advisor can provide. My teaching abilities were further challenged when my wife and I adopted four school-aged Russians and I was called upon to home-school two pre-teen girls with limited English skills. (Go non-verbal communication!!) It was during that time that my wife showed me how elementary teachers have many valuable “tricks” that also translate well to older students.

Now I am the “geoscience education expert” in a small Earth Science department. Yet I have found that this old dog can learn some new tricks. My younger colleagues have embraced active learning in ways that leave me in awe, and I’m looking forward to trying new ideas such as flipping my classes to take advantage of online resources.

This now the 10th NAGT awards banquet that I have attended. In that time it has been a pleasure to watch the geoscience education community blossom into the dynamic field that it is today, and I look forward to seeing all of the new and exciting pedagogies we dream up during the next decade.

I’d like to close with one small request. Many of us in this room already work with teachers to improve secondary education. I would encourage all of you to continue developing those relationships, but I’d also challenge you to reach out to elementary teachers. They represent our children’s first formal science teachers, so it is imperative that we not forget about that community as we work to improve geoscience education K to Gray.