A national science organization awarded one of its few dozen yearly awards to a local sixth-grade teacher.
The National Science Teachers Association awarded R.M. Miano Elementary School's Sergio de Alba with the Sylvia Shugrue Award for Elementary School Teachers in late March. The Shugrue Award is awarded to one teacher each year.
"It shows that the extra work I do is appreciated and that's always a nice thing," said de Alba, a teacher for 11 years.
De Alba, 36, said he gives his students hands-on lessons, and pushes them to do more than just memorize facts. The inquiry-based lessons make his students come up with the answers, he said.
De Alba's "Arachnidmania," for example, gave his students some facts about the emperor scorpion. The students were tasked with eight months of research and observation to figure out how and why it has evolved to its modern form.
"What my class does is have them (students) become the thinker -- how does this work and why?" he said. "Kids will surprise you."
De Alba said the key is to get students to understand how to think and what questions to ask.
"Science, if taught the right way, can be one of the most interesting subjects, and at the same time connect to every other subject," de Alba said.
The Shugrue Award came with a $1,000 grant that de Alba plans to put back into the classroom.
In a news release, Executive Director Francis Eberle said winners are chosen for their lifelong effort to instill students with science education through innovative means.
"NSTA awardees bring both passion and patience to the day-to-day teaching of science," Eberle said.
De Alba also received the The California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom Literacy for Life award and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Excellence in Teaching about Agriculture award in 2010, and the Merced County Farm Bureau Dr. Les McCabe Educator of the Year award in 2011.
Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos