A typical response from an eighth-grade student when presented with science content is along the lines of, "Why does this matter, and when will I ever use this?"

If there is no real-life application to their lives, the students are hard-pressed to truly understand the content -- no matter how experienced or good their science teacher is regarding content or teaching.

The best way to help students understand the nature of science is by giving them the learning opportunities through hands-on, inquiry-based labs. These experiences allow students to explore science concepts in real-life situations, while also encouraging them to create their own questions to be tested.

For me as a teacher, the enthusiasm and joy the students experience when they figure out a concept for themselves is the best reward. In my 18 years of teaching, the biggest impact on students' learning is when they are able to experience hands-on inquiry-based labs where they figure things out for themselves. When a student struggles and finally succeeds in their understanding, the confidence they gain is immeasurable.

Each year, the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation has four annual educator awards to honor the work of classroom teachers.

One of the awards is the Master Teacher Award, which is given annually to a PK-12 teacher. The award comes with a grant that is to be used for a project to benefit students through deep learning.

This past school year I received the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation 2020 Master Teacher Award. This is an honor and humbling, but also exciting, as I am going to be able to use the grant to directly and significantly benefit my eighth-grade students.

This will allow my school to continue the work with hands-on, inquiry-based learning that began a number of years ago with Dr. Gordon Aubrecht's Middle School Science Impact Project at Ohio State University. The implementation of the Middle School Science Impact Project successfully increased student performance on the Ohio State Test.

This grant will further the work by purchasing multiple stream tables and other supplies needed to give the eighth-grade students the experiences for the erosion and deposition unit that are essential to their learning. The project is centered on students solving the problem of increasing erosion of land. The project will culminate in students writing a simulation proposal based upon their data to a park service detailing how to decrease water erosion to save the land.

This award will affect my eighth-grade students by enriching their science learning to allow them to have real-life experiences with erosion and deposition of sediment. Now they will finally be able to answer the questions of, "Why does it matter and when will I ever use this?"

Jennifer Zelei is a science teacher with the South-Western City School District.