Cameroon RPCV educator wins Michigan’s ‘Science Teacher of the Year’ award

December 14th, 2009 by admin


by Tom Perkins
Freshmen biology students at Ypsilanti High School recently started a new lesson, and when they stepped through the door of room 114, they didn’t know what was in store. But one thing was certain – it was “Sowder time.”

For the hour of the day that’s known as such, students receive an education delivered by Hans Sowderевтини мебели, the 2010 recipient of the Michigan Science Teachers Association “Science Teacher of the Year” award.

“I was surprised that I won, but it really charged me for that two-day week,” said Sowder, who learned about the honor via e-mail on Nov. 23.

Among other reasons, the 10-year Ypsilanti High veteran was chosen for the award for exhibiting a passion for teaching, developing innovative teaching strategies and being an excellent role model for students.

When three of his ninth-grade biology students were asked what they liked best about Sowder’s class, all three replied in unison, “Labs!”

“We’re not in here just sitting around, we’re actually getting up and doing something,” Zachary Meyer said.

On a recent day, Sowder had his students learning about the respiratory system and carbon dioxide production in the body. Using a straw, they exhaled into a pink solution of sodium hydroxide and phenolphthalein. When the kids blew into the liquid, the carbon dioxide coming out of their bodies, which is a base, turned the acidic solution clear more quickly, depending on how much of the gas was exhaled.

By taking one another’s pulses and breaking out stethoscopes to track heart rates, his students could measure how much of the gas their bodies produced while in a normal state.
But that’s just one day. The next day, the students would run several laps around the indoor track in the gymnasium and take the same measurements. On the third day, Sowder dimmed the lights, sparked some incense, turned on relaxing music and had students take the same measurements.

By the end, the students had a data table exhibiting how much carbon dioxide their bodies produced under various conditions, demonstrating a connection between its production and heart rate and pulse. “When they’re able to see those connections, it’s powerful,” Sowder said. “They start to understand what’s going on inside their body.”

Influential to Sowder’s educational approach are his experiences in classrooms across the globe – from three years teaching in Cameroon with the Peace Corps to a year at an Alaskan school in a remote “fly-in” village with his wife, to Kettering High School in Detroit.

Sowder said his years at Kettering were particularly educational because he learned to wear many hats – that of a teacher, father figure and friend. “I loved developing much richer relationships there,” he said. “That was something that was exciting at the time.”
Sowder further credits his colleagues, especially at YHS, for inspiring him and setting an example on how to excel in education.

“I have learned so much from my other colleagues, and I wouldn’t be the teacher I am had I worked in a vacuum,” he said. “There have been a lot of teachers in my life trying new things and not being afraid to do so, and I’ve taken pieces from what I’ve seen of them.”
Sowder said it’s his obligation to provide the students with an education. “I’m going to expect excellence from them every single minute of the hour, but I’m going to give it to them as well,” he said.

Sowder said he considers himself “on stage’ while teaching, and his passion for science is no small part of what keeps students engaged. “Science is so excellent,” he said. “It’s the study of all that’s been created around us, and it’s a wonderful to understand intricacies and complexities of its laws.”

Sowder was nominated for the award by Richard Weigel, the district’s assistant superintendent for educational quality. He will receive an award at a ceremony in March in Lansing.

“Mr. Sowder represents the caliber of highly qualified educators that we have in our district,” Superintendent Dedrick Martin said. “We are very proud of his accomplishments and anticipate that more great things are on the horizon for him.”
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.

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