Education

From Neurons to Nuts

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Did you know that your brain is the consistency of warm mashed potatoes and sand? The students in Mandy Collins” gifted education class at McKendree Elementary School sure do, and they”d also tell you that fact has been confirmed by several neurologists.

This is just one of many examples of how Collins gets her students interested in learning – food, movement and innovative projects have all brought fun to many lessons. Not to mention, "We sing about everything from neurons to nuts," Collins says.

The spirit Collins brings to her classroom each day is one reason she was named this year”s Gwinnett County Public Schools Teacher of the Year, a recognition her students think is well earned. "The best part of being in Ms. Collins” class is Ms. Collins! She teaches us new things everyday," says Austin Snyder, a first grade student.

This year alone, Collins” gifted classes created snow to observe chemical reactions, estimated the age of the tallest trees on campus and developed marble runs down the hallways to study forces of motion. Mollie Cole, a fourth-grader, says such experiments are the best part of Collins” class. "She makes you look at things in many different ways," Mollie says.

In one of her classroom experiments, Collins almost forgot to put the top on a blender, sending giggles of laughter throughout her classroom. The mess was welcomed, though, as her students had a rich experience and learned something new – a goal she strives for in every classroom lesson.

"Gifted education encompasses the skills and the critical thinking required in tomorrow”s workplace to keep our country in the forefront of innovation, design, technology and worldwide leadership," Collins adds. She strives to embrace her students” talents and help them become good decision makers.

Collins, who just finished her tenth year with Gwinnett County Public Schools, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and a Master of Science degree in education from State University of New York College at Fredonia. She believes that through her gifted education class she can provide a specialized form of education for students that need something different.

"Every child has the right to an education that provides at least a year”s growth in a year”s time…Gifted education for a truly gifted child is like water to a fish – it”s essential to thrive," she says.

Desire to teach runs deep
Collins desire to become a teacher came naturally. "My dad, who was a teacher, wanted me to be a commodities broker…whatever that is – only joking," she says. "It is the silent call to be part of something greater than yourself… that influenced me to become a teacher."

When Collins says she found out she was named Teacher of the Year, she was utterly shocked. "Gwinnett County teachers are the cream of the crop. To be nominated by the peers at your school is an honor in itself, but to find yourself listed among the top 20 teachers was a defining moment in my life."

But the honor doesn”t compare with the fulfillment Collins finds sitting in her classroom each day. In fact, she secretly delights in that fact that sometimes her students run down the hallway to her class and chat with great excitement about the predicted adventure planned for the day. "I guess I have the unique gift of being able to relate to the heart of a young child…Perhaps I still am one myself."