LVR teacher Angie McTague is one of two BC teachers to win UBC Engineering’s McEwen Family Teacher Recognition Award this year. She was recognized for her innovative and engaging ways of teaching grade 11 and 12 physics.
“I was very touched,” she told the Star. “This is the nicest thing. I got $5,000 to spend on my programs — this comes with the award. There is a lot I can do with that. And I can nominate a student for a $5,000 scholarship.”
The McEwan award is unique in that the nominator must be a former student of the nominee, and must also be an engineering student at UBC.
McTague’s nominator was Carli Hall, who graduated from LVR in 2010 and is now a third year chemical engineering student at UBC. Two more of McTague’s former students, Tegan Hansen-Hoedeman and Lindsay Jennings, also wrote letters supporting the nomination.
Why did Hall nominate her?
“She made me excited about learning, and about science,” says Hall. “She is excited and enthusiastic about what she teaches and really into helping students. If you had a question, she would make sure you understood it by the time you left. She worked so hard to make sure you know what you are doing.
“My friends and I would hang out in her classroom. She would trust us to be there by ourselves. She would be at school very late and we would stay there in her classroom and do homework. She would help us out with other subjects. She was very open to any issues we had.
“She would even help students who were not in her classes, with homework or with personal issues, because she would be unable to ignore an opportunity to provide positive encouragement.
“She left me with a good understanding of physics. I really felt like it was possible to pursue an engineering career.
Carli Hall (left) in 2009 in Angie McTague’s physics class with the roller coaster she built with two classmates.
McTague says the secret to teaching a tough subject like physics is to make it fun.
“I get excited about it,” says McTague. “I get silly, it lets me be the most myself. We invent stories, we play around with stuff, and so there is definitely a component that has to be fun. And then you up the ante because you need the skill set to go with the fun.
“Physics is not easy, it is really hard, and there is that moment — and I really try to get them to enjoy that moment — when they figure something out. Do the happy dance. Touchdown, score, you got the answer. The kids feed off that.”
Hall says McTague is very good at creating hands-on learning experiences. She reminisces about a class trip to the theme park at Silverwood where she and the other students calculated the acceleration of the rides and estimated G-forces, and she talks about a roller coaster she made in class.
“I have a few classics,” says McTague. “In my Physics 11 course, I like to have one thing that gets a reputation so the kids expect it. They build a roller coaster. They have two hours, I provide cardboard and duct tape, they can bring anything else. Their job is to build a roller coaster and they have to predict the velocity that the passenger will have at the bottom of the track and so at the end of this crazy two hour mayhem I get the judges in.”
One of the judges is LVR principal Tim Huttemann.
“Kids take her basic idea and they take it off in kid directions,” he says. “They are all unique.”
Another highlight of the year for the Grade 12 students is a trip to the annual engineering open house at UBC, and to BCIT.
“I want kids from our area to see where all this kind of stuff leads, in a concrete way,” says McTague. “For some of the kids it is just being on a university campus, which they may have never done. For a lot of them it is, ‘Wow engineering is all of that, and you can do all these things, wow, that is kind of amazing.’ It starts to get them thinking about where they are heading.”
Some of McTague’s work with her older students is to prepare them for life as a science student on a university campus.
“Physics can be scary, and there is a big culture shock when you walk into a university. If you can make it through physics, which is going to be one of your most brutal courses if you are a first year science student, and feel like it is OK, that is one piece of the puzzle you can put aside. It is going to be harder than anything I give them, that’s for sure.”
For the past two years, Huttemann as gone with McTague’s students to the UBC engineering open house as a chaperone. He says there always lots of students signed up for this popular trip.
“One of the funniest parts,” says Huttemann, “is the kids are expecting a bus ride, junk food, pillows and games and then half way to Vancouver, Angie says, ‘Get out your notebooks, we are going to do a lesson,’ so they don’t lose any school on the way down.
“They go down because they are swept up in the wave of Angie, and what they find out on the way back when it is a bit quieter and the adrenaline is gone, they think, ‘Hey, I might want to go to university, it might be engineering, maybe I will study physics…’ There is a whole world she is exposing them to.
“We worry about whether kids are learning,” Huttemann says, “but I watch what they do in her class, and they are learning an incredible amount. So we don’t have to worry. I think they are going to solve some of the problems our generation has created.”