Carroll County teacher wins third award this year Science instructor encourages students to learn in real world

October 04, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Winning the honor of Maryland Teacher of the Year last night completed a triple crown for Robert Foor-Hogue, a Carroll County science teacher making waves with his bold, innovative style of teaching.

Three days earlier, he won a $25,000 award from the Milken Family Foundation for his work. And this summer, he learned that he and his class will mount the first student-built exhibit at Columbus Center, the multi-million marine biotechnology center at the Inner Harbor.

"I'm overwhelmed, and I feel truly honored, said Foor-Hogue, 47, a resident of Millers in northern Carroll County.

He said last night that his philosophy has always been to pique students' curiosity and let them go as far as their imaginations will take them.

"If you just provide the kids with the skills they need and get out of their way, they'll do incredible things," he said.

The award was announced last night at a banquet at Martin's West in Woodlawn.

The recognition has mushroomed this year, but for eight years he has gained a statewide reputation for the way his interdisciplinary class, called "science research," immerses students in real projects that affect the world outside the classroom.

Thirteen fish tanks bubble and splash in his busy laboratory. Students each year raise trout to be released into tributaries being restored to the cold, pristine, oxygen-rich condition required to sustain a native population of the fragile fish.

"Everybody loves his class," said Adam McCready, a senior. "He's the manager, and you can go off on your own adventure and do what you want. Basically, it's your class."

Adam this year worked with Foor-Hogue and other students to create an outdoor "classroom" in the wetlands behind Piney Ridge Elementary School in Eldersburg.

The class sometimes catches students by surprise when they must direct their research.

"When they first start, they want structure," Foor-Hogue said. "But is the world a structured place? Not particularly. They have to be confident with the lack of structure.

"I use the team approach to do it. Someone who likes to build, someone who likes computers, maybe someone you might call the brain or the nerd."

Usually, he lets students take off, with occasional challenges or nudges if he sees them lagging. Students operate by trial and error.

L "The possibility of failure makes you work harder," he said.

Although his class is mostly known for the virtuoso student work that comes out of it, Foor-Hogue is quick to note his class does include some students who are not overachievers.

"I have all abilities in this class," he said.

Foor-Hogue taught for the first six years of his career at Dunbar High School in Baltimore. When he started teaching chemistry 17 years ago at South Carroll High School, the enrollment for that class was so low it wasn't a full-time position. Within a few years, enrollment quadrupled in chemistry, and students now are taking two or even three science classes at a time.

"Bob is like a Pied Piper with kids flocking to wherever he goes," Gary Dunkleberger, county assistant superintendent of instruction, said in a letter nominating Foor-Hogue for teacher of the year.

He has pioneered the use of aquaculture -- the raising of fish -- as a medium to study a variety of science disciplines in high school. Projects covering the microbiology of the tank water to the pathology of fish tumors are fair game for students.

His work caught the attention of Columbus Center. His students are designing a tank system for the exhibit hall that will raise fish, filter the water and divert the waste as fertilizer to an aquaponic shelf of plants.

"He's so unique -- he doesn't have counterparts in other places," said Nancy S. Grasmick, state superintendent of schools, after Foor-Hogue walked her through his laboratory, describing the tank systems and warning her that she might get splashed by tilapia.

His way of getting students to do science and not just read it exemplifies education reform in Maryland, Grasmick said, and she plans to use him in developing statewide standards for high school science.

"He'll be invaluable," she said. "A lot of our students don't necessarily learn through the lecture and regurgitation process."

Sometimes Foor-Hogue gets students' attention in unorthodox ways -- by putting a burning piece of paper into a glass and sticking it to his forehead to show how gases contract as they cool, creating a vacuum.

A few weeks ago, he jumped into one of his tanks. The hard drive had crashed on a computer in the classroom that held research data. A student computer whiz bet Foor-Hogue he could retrieve it. Foor-Hogue was doubtful. If the student could get it back, Foor-Hogue promised, the teacher would swim a lap in one of the tanks. The information was retrieved, and Foor-Hogue made good on his promise in swim trunks the next day, to the delight of the class.

He has cultivated trust among administrators who let him take chances.

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