June 2005 -
League of Their Own

Distinguished Teaching Award

Carole KubotaCarole Kubota
Professor, UW Bothell

The worst teacher she's ever known made a big impact on Carole Kubota, '68, '77, '85. Her junior high teacher taught her a lesson she never forgot-that science had to be learned by rote, that it was dull and very black and white.

Fortunately for 37 years of UW science education students, the next person to have a big effect showed her just the opposite.

As a UW undergraduate in the '60s, Kubota wanted to become a teacher-but not a science teacher. She majored in sociology. But everything changed in her senior year when she took a class from Botany Professor Arthur Kruckeberg.

"The first day of class he said science isn't a bunch of stuff to memorize. It's a way of looking at the world and making observations and generalizations from those observations," Kubota says. "Once I heard that, I switched majors." Graduating with a degree in biology with such a late start was no easy feat, but Kubota had seen the light. Her grad-school adviser, Education Professor Roger Olstad, also focused her ambitions. The two UW professors became her role models.

After earning her bachelor's degree, Kubota joined the fledgling Pacific Science Center as an instructor and learned a thing or two about having fun with science. "We had to make the classes interactive and exciting," she relates. Teaching kids and their teachers during a seven-year stint at the center while simultaneously working on her UW graduate degrees, Kubota developed her teaching style. "You have to grab people and make learning interesting," she says.

She does this by making learning interactive, by using simulation games to get a point across, by facilitating lively group discussions, by taking field trips, by never answering questions except with more questions, and by any means that works. You won't find her lecturing at the front of the room. In fact, you'd have a hard time picking her out if you visited one of her classes. She might be listening to a group discussion, helping locate materials for a project or prodding students to dig deeper into their understanding of what it means to be a teacher.

She enjoys the challenge of turning science-anxious pre-service teachers into science advocates through classes that keep everyone engaged. "I believe the students in my classes are rarely bored," Kubota says. "They are challenged to think, rather than memorize."

Students appreciate her methods as well as her madness. "When Dr. Kubota entered the classroom she brought with her an energy that was infectious," writes a former student in support of Kubota's teaching.

Teachers teach the way they were taught, Kubota notes. She shows teachers-in-training how to make science exciting in their own classrooms. A perfect example presented itself when a former student brought his fifth-grade class to the Bothell campus. Kubota's pre-service teachers helped the class conduct pillbug races as the culmination of a science lesson.

One of the concepts she wants her students-and their students-to get is that real scientists don't find the answers in the back of the book. Instead, science is a continual quest for answers that only lead to more questions. "You never get to the end," she says.

Kubota is in this for the thrills. "When I come out of a class that has really gone well, I'm energized, because to see the students learning-from each other and themselves as much as from me-is so exciting. Helping them to grow and expand on their own thinking is very satisfying. It's just joyful."-Beth Luce