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Smashed up graham crackers, chocolate syrup, and some frosting – those were just some of the ingredients students in Tiffany Oliver’s IB Biology class used to simulate stomach contents as they passed through a mock digestive system made of panty hose. Oliver’s hands-on learning philosophy is one of the reasons her students at Robinson High School love her, and Governor Rick Scott recognized her with a Shine Award during the Cabinet meeting at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
“I was welcomed to meet the Governor and win a Governor’s Shine Award. I was amazed. I was surprised. I never expected it. It’s very humbling. It’s an honor to be recognized, because I love what I do,” said Oliver.
The Governor's Shine Award is presented to Floridians who have positively impacted children through education – something Oliver’s students believe she does every day.
“It was totally deserved. Ms. Oliver is probably one of the most hard working teachers here. She’s always going above and beyond to make new opportunities for us,” said Robinson High School Senior, Faith Jankowski.
Oliver has a master’s degree in Zoology and Marine Biology and was a research scientist who decided to “try” teaching. Fifteen years later, students insist they retain the tough topics they have to learn because of Oliver’s “understand-it-as-you-do-it” style.
“It was a model of the digestive system, where we went all the way from the mouth on out,” said Senior Claire Chesney. “And in the end, it’s what really sticks in your mind. Because you’re not going to forget something kind of that gross. You can tell she spends a lot of time working on the things that she thinks will make an impact on us.”
“Out of all of my teachers and all of my classes, this is the one I look forward to,” said Senior Matthew Reinecke. “It helps me understand it so much better. If I were just reading out of the text book, it would just be memorization and after the first test I’d forget it.”
“I try to make it relatable, and fun and relevant. The students are going to learn science by doing science,” Oliver said.
Oliver has transformed her classroom into an experimental lab, called “Oliver Medical School.”
“We get lab coats, personalized lab coats that say ‘Oliver Medical School’ on them with each individual student’s name. They learn human body systems from a doctor’s perspective. So, they not only get the basics, but they see the connections, they see the problems,” said Oliver.
Governor Scott also recognized Oliver as a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching State Finalist.
“I was thrilled to find out that I am one of the four finalists for the State of Florida for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching. I love that I can connect students to something that they didn’t understand before. What it means to me is – it’s working. But, I don’t do this for the awards. My reward is that I love what I do. I love what I do. I love instilling this love of science in students,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s hands-on teaching doesn’t end in the classroom. Every year, she takes students on a grant-funded Tampa Bay Ecological trip through the Florida Aquarium. Students head out on a boat to gather samples and data to analyze water quality.
To see Oliver’s Ecological Project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0LAoxXOjbI
Oliver said she works to empower girls to explore the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through a Girls Underwater Robot Camp. Students built an underwater Remotely Operated Vehicle that’s equipped with a camera and controlled with a laptop that can be used by Robinson High students.
Oliver continues her learning as well. Last year, she went to Belize for the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Coral Restoration project where she worked on different methods of micro-fragmenting coral species and transplanting them to underwater coral nurseries.
They’re experiences she passes on to her students: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEIm7rcGPtg
Oliver said one of her favorite parts about being a teacher is instilling her STEM passion in graduates who go on to become successful college students.
“When they come back and tell me about their successes, there’s no greater feel as a teacher,” said Oliver.
“Ms. Oliver is awesome,” Reinecke said.
To learn more about events happening at Robinson High, follow the school on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HCPSRobinsonHS
For more information about Robinson High School: http://robinsonhs.mysdhc.org/
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