Six educators named finalists for national teaching award in math, science

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Carrie Burkhart
Director of Communications
(405) 521-3371, c: (405) 760-7881

Erin Corbin
Communications Specialist
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Annette Price
Communications Specialist
(405) 521-6647



Six educators named finalists for national teaching award in math, science

OKLAHOMA CITY (Nov. 10, 2021) – State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister announced today six state-level finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

This year’s math finalists are

  • Timothy Collier, McAlester Public Schools
  • Telannia Norfar, Oklahoma City Public Schools
  • Rebecka Peterson, Union Public Schools

This year’s science finalists are

  • Emily Harris, Stillwater Public Schools
  • David Powell, Norman Public Schools
  • Laura Vaughn, Norman Public Schools

“We commend these talented teachers who instill a sense of investigation and discovery in our students as they explore science and math at our middle and high schools,” Hofmeister said. “Their innovative approach to teaching critical thinking and essential problem-solving skills through hands-on lessons is preparing our students for an emerging workforce.”

Established in 1983, PAEMST is the highest recognition a K-12 mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. Awards alternate each year between elementary and secondary teachers. This year’s honor recognizes secondary-level teachers.

The finalists were chosen by a local selection committee of teachers, district-level personnel, representatives from higher education and past awardees. Each finalist demonstrated a mastery of math or science instruction and effective use of student assessments to improve student learning. Up to two Oklahoma finalists could be named national recipients of the award.

The national recipients represent all 50 states and U.S. territories. Winners will receive a paid trip to Washington, D.C., to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities, a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation and a certificate signed by the President of the United States.


Timothy Collier has been in education for 34 years and is the Secondary Curriculum Design Coordinator for McAlester Public Schools. He was the district Teacher of the Year in 1996 and 2020. He has also been a Teachers Teaching with Technology regional instructor, Oklahoma Excel Improvement Fellow and Great Expectations instructor.

“Students are only willing to try new things, to make mistakes and learn from them, in an environment where they feel safe,” Collier said. “The teacher must build real relationships with students and grow a classroom culture where students can trust each other, understand that mistakes indicate growth, and where students and educators recognize every effort and cheer each other’s success.”


Telannia Norfar teaches 10th- to 12th-grade Algebra II, pre-calculus and calculus at Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City Public Schools. She has written three books on project-based learning, is a national faculty member for PBLWorks and chief executive officer of Norfar Educational Consulting.

“Every kid deserves a champion -- a person who will never give up on them and never let them down,” said Norfar, who has been in education 16 years.


Rebecka Peterson teaches pre-calculus and AP calculus at Union High School. She was Union District Teacher of the Year for 2021, as well as an AP Reader for calculus. She has 12 years of teaching experience.

“I believe in stories. Sitting with each of my students and learning their backgrounds allows me to understand where they’re coming from and what we have in common. When we learn stories, we hold a piece of each other. This mutual trust and respect allows learning to flow in a safe and understanding environment,” Peterson said.


Emily Harris teaches engineering to sixth- and seventh-grade students at Stillwater Middle School. Harris has been teaching for seven years and is passionate about mentoring and helping other teachers as well as students.

“I believe that providing students with opportunities to learn through hands-on exploration solving real-world problems increases a student’s love and passion for the content. Students will be more engaged, have better recall and be more likely to continue to pursue a STEM education,” Harris said.


David Powell teaches college prep and AP chemistry at Norman High School. He has been a Teacher of the Year finalist for his school and is a three-time American Chemical Society Hach Grant Recipient. He has eight years of teaching experience.

“I believe in fostering an environment where students feel welcomed and able to engage in the process of understanding the world around them,” Powell said. “Providing opportunities for students to explore their world and better understand it is critical to the success of every student in science and beyond.”


Laura Vaughn has 22 years of experience and currently teaches seventh-grade science at Irving Middle School in Norman Public Schools. She has served on a number of committees, including the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s Science Standards Writing Committee, Solar Schools Norman Committee, Sutton Urban Wilderness Advisory Committee and the Norman Arts Council Grant Review Committee. She was Teacher of the Year for her school in 2018, and an Improvement Fellow for the Oklahoma Excel Program.

“A science classroom should be student-centered, a place where students feel comfortable investigating phenomena through hands-on labs and materials, guided by high-quality standards that encourage three-dimensional learning,” Vaughn said.


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Last updated on November 10, 2021