Dawn Marie O'Connor
Secondary Science Awardee
I love interacting with students and their observations about the natural world. When students come to science class, it is the place where they can take the skills they learn in math and English classes and put them to use to explore and communicate their questions and ideas. The door to my classroom says, “We learn science by doing science!” When a science class is taught in an inquiry style, all students have equal access to the content because they all have the same common experiences. I believe we need to create students that are capable thinkers and problem solvers. We especially need to produce a generation of students that can interpret the information that they are bombarded with in the media and make a decision about the reliability of that information. My goal is for my future engineers, scientists, and technologists to see the possibilities and to expose their interests. It is also my goal to produce a population of capable problem solvers. — Dawn O'Connor
Dawn O’Connor teaches seventh grade Biology at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School in the Gilroy Unified School District in Santa Clara County. She also chairs the Science Department, coaches the Cross Country team, and is the school’s Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Advisor. She graduated from California State University, Humboldt with a B.S. in Biology and she completed her multiple subjects credential program at San Jose State University.
Before becoming a science teacher in 1996, O’Connor was a stay-at-home mother. Previously, she had taught special education students in a self-contained classroom.
Her students have designed investigations conducted on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Muir Space Station and have maintained an Adopt-A-Watershed program.
While at Ascencion Solorsano Middle School, O’Connor expanded what once was a traditional science fair activity into a five-month inquiry-based project that 98 percent of the students now complete. Students do all of the work that a practicing scientist would do — selecting a topic; creating hypotheses; designing and performing experiments; and writing and presenting conclusions. Dawn sees the process as creating aspiring scientists. Solorsano students produce inquiry projects of the highest caliber. Annually 17-20 projects qualify for the Silicon Valley competition and 75 percent win awards. In the last two years, four Solorsano students have qualified for state competition and three of those won awards. Solorsano received the Outstanding Middle School Award at the most recent Silicon Valley Science Fair competition.
Dawn O’Connor has received the 2007 Horace Lucich Award for Outstanding Teachers and the California State Science Fair Teacher of the Year Award. She was a Summer Institute Fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Probing the Nanoparticle and also participated in the Summer Leadership Institute hosted by the National Science Education Leadership Association.