An Ingham County educator known as one of the leaders of a robotics program that takes students to the west Pacific to search for downed Word War II planes and their missing crewmen has been honored with an Excellence in Education award from the Michigan Lottery.
The award winner, Josh Nichols, is a fifth-grade teacher specializing in robotics at Heritage Elementary in Stockbridge. The school is part of the Stockbridge Community Schools district.
The Michigan Lottery recently established the Excellence in Education awards to recognize outstanding public school educators across the state during the school year.
Winners of the weekly award receive a plaque, a $500 cash prize, and a $500 grant to their classroom, school or school district. One of the weekly winners will be selected as the Educator of the Year and will receive a $10,000 cash prize.
Each winner also is featured in a news segment on the Lottery’s media partner stations: WXYZ-TV in Detroit, FOX 17 in Grand Rapids, and FOX 47 in Lansing. The news segment featuring Nichols will air Tuesday evening in Grand Rapids and Lansing and Friday evening in Detroit.
For the Excellence in Education awards program, the Lottery has teamed up with Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo. Izzo met recently with Nichols at the Breslin Center and presented him with the award.
Nichols said both of his parents were teachers and he was attracted to an education career from “coaching kids at basketball camps while in college and watching both of my parents teach and share stories about the profession.”
He added that his favorite part of being an educator has been “bringing real life missions into my classrooms. My students are able to find aspects, in which they have passion, and contribute to the creation of a variety of projects. Every student is part of both individual project creation as well as group project efforts. This has created an atmosphere in which the students find pleasure in their educational process, learn at individual paces while keeping up in all subjects together.”
Nichols said that he’s motivated to do his best every day in the classroom to help “the students who struggle like I did as a student.”
Nichols earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Spring Arbor University after attending the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship. He has been working in education for 17 years, the past 15 years in the Stockbridge Community Schools district and has been in his current position for four years.
The mother of a former student nominated Nichols for the Excellence in Education award. The nomination noted that he was “instrumental in bringing a project-based learning program to the Stockbridge school district. In addition to all of his hard work and dedication to get this program up and running, he also has been a driving force behind our school system’s ROV (remotely operated vehicle) program and along with the high school robotics teacher takes yearly trips to Palau to aid in the search for planes that went down during World War II.”
For the past three years, the Stockbridge Advanced Underwater Robotics team has worked with the BentProp Project and used underwater robots they’ve designed and built to help search for the wreckage of downed planes and to film wreckage that’s found.
The BentProp Project is a team of volunteers who are dedicated to locating and assisting with identifying the remains of American servicemen who were prisoners of war or missing in action from World War II in the western Pacific islands.
Along with the search efforts, Nichols also has used the trips to help introduce project-based learning to local educators. “I brought an extra ROV with me on our first trip to Palau and took it to the elementary school. Over the past three years that has grown into a side project and now we have trained their elementary teachers and we have taken their students to look at shipwrecks in the ocean using the ROVs that they learned to build. The Palau students now have 10 ROVs and we train their teachers every year we go back,” he said.
Closer to home, Nichols said he takes students from Stockbridge to Suttons Bay and they conduct water quality tests using the ROVs that they have built.
“One of my favorite missions each year is having the students build an ROV that releases the salmon we raise in our class,” he said, adding that he’s working with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to develop a program to train teachers across the state about how to have their students build salmon release ROVs in their classrooms.
“One of my new endeavors has been to build micro ROVs that can be used in every classroom, especially for the grades for the younger students (second-, third- and fourth-grades). This January, I will be piloting a program that I developed and hope to get it into classrooms across the country,” he said.
Outstanding public school educators may be nominated for an Excellence in Education award at http://bit.ly/ExcellenceInEducation or through the websites of the Lottery’s media partner stations.
Excellence in Education award nominees will be evaluated on the following criteria:
- Excellence – Their work consistently helps students and/or their schools or school districts advance to higher levels of academic achievement.
- Dedication – They consistently go above and beyond expectations to help students succeed.
- Inspiration – Their work inspires others around them to exceed expectations either academically or professionally.
- Leadership – They demonstrate clear leadership skills in their positions with their school or school districts
- Effectiveness – The nominee’s work has clear and positive results on the educational advancement of students within the school or school district.