science fair

Judge Kevin Crosby listens as 10-year-old Madelyn Gayita of Miller Elementary explains her project "Does Oil Spoil Soil?" at the 2016 Kern County Science Fair.

Keeping students interested in class is a tough job for teachers everywhere, but one Kern High School District special education teacher has been recognized as one of the nation's top-10 creative and innovative instructors by the Henry Ford Museum.

Kevin Crosby, a teacher with the district's Alternative Instructional Methods (AIM) Center, was selected as a grand prize winner in The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation Teacher Innovator Awards. He will receive a five-day Innovation Immersion Experience from July 27 to Aug. 1 at the museum in Dearborn, Mich., which will include behind-the-scenes tours with curators and a recognition ceremony.

A total of 10 grand prize winners and 10 first place winners were selected.

"I’m honored to be recognized for this, and it motivates me to keep doing innovative things in the classroom and helping students connect with learning and curriculum and increase participation," Crosby said.

Finding innovative ways to teach students with special needs was something he always strived for throughout his 17-year teaching career, he said. When he worked at Independence High School from 2010-2014, he created the Falcon Autistic Solar Team (FAST) for special education students. Students built cars, Farris wheels and an oven powered by solar energy and learned that not everything needs batteries to work.

"The kids really connected with it, and the hands-on effect of what they created and seeing it move without batteries and traditional sources," he said.

He took the club a step further and had his students teach their peers about solar energy. The group visited elementary schools in the area and presented their projects, held an energy expo, sponsored a recycled art show and energy run and filmed two public service announcements about solar energy.

Crosby noticed his students were more engaged in their learning.

"Special education school in general is tough," he said. "If you find a way to connect with them, like I have with hands-on creative ways, they get it, participate and remember."

"When we made the solar powered cars, we were waiting for the buses and one of the kids came up to me and said the solar activity was remarkable. I thought, 'Wow, this had such a strong effect on someone,'" he added.

The club has received awards from the National Energy Education Development Project.

He also created a coffee shop at Independence so students with autism can practice vocational skills. A picture menu described how to create different drinks, and then students would greet customers, make their orders and learn how to exchange money.

Since working at the AIM Center for the last five years, Crosby has tried to slowly incorporate similar programs such as FAST. Emotional disturbance is the primary disability among his students, so they need small structured classes with plenty of adult supervision, he said. It is also difficult to go off-campus with them.

However, he has continued to offer different hands-on activities in his science classes to get students excited about their education, which they "love."

Creativity goes a long way in a classroom, and his recognition from the Henry Ford Museum shows he is doing things right.

"What I’ve tried to do is get through to students who have trouble learning the traditional way," he explained. "It’s fun to see things happen rather than read it out of a book."

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