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State’s top science, math teachers both WSU alumnae

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

winning-teachersPULLMAN, Wash. – Two Washington State University alumnae are the most recent state winners of the annual Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Nancy Pfaff, math, and Pamela Nolan-Beasley, science, will each receive $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and a trip for two to Washington, D.C., for recognition events and professional development.

Believing teachers are critical to getting more students engaged in the increasingly important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, U.S. President Barack Obama has committed to strengthening STEM education. The awards recognize outstanding K-12 teachers – one in science and one in math from each state.

Read more about the awards at

Nancy Pfaff

PfaffWhen Pfaff earned her bachelor’s degree from WSU in mathematics and education in 1972, it was uncommon for women to study math.

“I was often the only female, or one of the only females, in my classes, but I persisted because I loved mathematics,” she said. “My background has made me a strong elementary mathematics teacher because I understand the concepts and big ideas behind the fundamental beginnings in elementary.”

She has taught in both gifted and general education classrooms, between third and sixth grades, in the Lake Washington School District in Redmond, Wash., for 26 years. She is national board certified in early adolescent mathematics and has specialized the last two years in sixth grade math at Horace Mann Elementary and Inglewood Middle School.

At Horace Mann, she implemented Math Night, where sixth-graders lead K-5 students – and parents – in fun math games and activities.

She has taught at City University in Seattle, helping pre-service teachers get their math teaching credentials.

“I am thrilled by the positive focus on elementary mathematics education the presidential award brings to our community and school district, and I am honored by the recognition,” said Pfaff, who also earned her master’s in education from WSU.

Pamela Nolan-Beasley

Nolan-BeasleyIn 30 years of teaching, Nolan-Beasley has implemented challenging inquiry and scientific investigations throughout all curricular areas. For example, she does innovative hands-on Science Nights where students and their families conduct experiments together.

“We can foster positive attitudes toward science at the earliest stages of children’s educational careers and value their inquisitive nature by including them in our scientific communities,” she said.

A certified K-12 teacher at Waitsburg (Wash.) Elementary School, where she has taught kindergarten for 13 years, she earned her master’s at WSU not in education, but in foreign languages and literature.

She is a state Leadership and Assistance for Science Education and Reform (LASER) facilitator and a teacher leader for sustainable innovation and reform in science instruction.

“It is my hope that this award will open avenues for educating others about children’s innate sense of discovery and ability to think at advanced levels,” she said.

Read more in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin at

STEM education

Teaching STEM courses it tricky, said Amy Roth McDuffie, a professor of math education at WSU Tri-Cities, because it is a curriculum that changes rapidly.

“Due to constant change, teachers are expected to get K-12 students ready for careers that still won’t even exist for another five years,” agreed Richard Lamb, a WSU professor of science and technology education. “That’s a pretty sobering thought, and one that shows the importance of good STEM teachers.”

“It’s not just about them learning how to teach today’s science tomorrow,” Roth McDuffie said. “They have to understand the principles behind teaching STEM, so when technology or science or math evolves they can evolve as well.”

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