In a ceremony on Wednesday evening, May 13, SFI awarded Dave Brooks, a chemistry and physics teacher at the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, the 2015 Santa Fe Institute Prize for Outstanding Teacher. More about Dave Brooks here.

Brooks joined ten Santa Fe-area high school seniors in receiving the Institute's High School Prize for Scientific Excellence. The prize is awarded each year to one local science teacher and one outstanding senior from each of Santa Fe’s high schools.

“There aren’t a lot of tangible rewards for teachers,” says Brooks, who has taught at NMSA since the charter school opened five years ago. “[This award] means a great deal.” 

When Brooks took over his first classroom, originally built for elementary schoolers, it needed immediate renovation if it was to serve a high school-level science class.

“No money was available for proper tables…or materials,” says Brooks, who spent his evenings and weekends building half a dozen pine and plywood lab benches. He scrounged used materials for a storage room and installed sinks, a lab shower, and eyewash stations -- all for less than $500. When he finished the first lab, he handed it over to a fellow science teacher and began outfitting another classroom for himself.

He relies on digital technology and online media to keep his curricular both fresh and relevant. “It’s a great time to be a teacher,” says Brooks. “The information you can present…is as up to date as yesterday.”

His students have used Google Earth to look at dams as they discuss fluid dynamics, watched videos of MIT scientists exploring alternative energy power storage, and chatted with Mark Levinson, director of the documentary film “Particle Fever,” via Skype. 

Kelly Sandoval, an NMSA junior whose passion is technical theater and the performing arts, says Brooks has inspired her to think about the science on the stage -- from the chemicals used to paint the set to the physics of movement and vocal projection.

Brooks keeps in touch with his former students. He has seen their faces in science news, and he has been pleasantly surprised when some students became chemical engineers despite struggling in high school. “That’s the payoff,” he says, “the success of former students.”

More about the ten winning high school students here

Read Juniper Lovato's letter to the editor of the Santa Fe New Mexican (May 17, 2015)

Read the Santa Fe New Mexican article featuring High School Prize winner August Honnell (May 16, 2015)