Chimacum Elementary teacher wins national award

Posted 7/29/22

Trapping fish and playing Minecraft sound like a great way to spend weekends as a kid, but award-winning teacher Alfonso Gonzalez Jr. doesn’t make his students wait.

Instead, Gonzalez uses …

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Chimacum Elementary teacher wins national award


Trapping fish and playing Minecraft sound like a great way to spend weekends as a kid, but award-winning teacher Alfonso Gonzalez Jr. doesn’t make his students wait.

Instead, Gonzalez uses activities like these to make learning science and math a fun, challenging, and engaging experience for his students.

His innovative teaching techniques have earned Gonzalez the Presidential Award for Environmental Educators from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Gonzalez teaches math and science to sixth-grade students at Chimacum Elementary School and with 30 years of experience to hone his craft, he has put a lot of thought, effort, and love into what he does.

“I try to model my classroom after something that would engage me,” Gonzalez said, noting that he draws some of his inspiration from George Couros, the author of “The Innovator’s Mindset” who has worked at all school levels, from K-12 as a teacher, technology facilitator, and school and district administrator.

Couros was the first person Gonzalez heard ask the question, “Would you want to be a student in your own class?”

To keep things engaging, Gonzalez implements techniques called experiential learning and gamification, which are two fancy names for his fish and Minecraft-based lessons.

The fishy bit of this experiential learning comes in the form of the Ocean Guardian School project Gonzalez leads with his classes, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

This environmental stewardship project began in 2000 as a water quality monitoring activity. Funded by a small grant, the project engages students with the creek running by the school in hands-on activities including fish trapping, benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, and water quality testing.

Since 2002, Gonzalez has been recording the information his class pulls out of the creek and shares the findings with the Jefferson Country Conservation District tracking database.

“I want kids to see that the work they’re doing is valuable. We’re actually doing good for our community and learning to make the world better,” Gonzalez said.

His students are excited to learn about the ecosystem they live in when they get to be hands on with it. The outdoor classroom makes learning fun and relevant and engages students who sometimes struggle in traditional classroom settings.

While separate from the EPA related project, Gonzalez’s use of gamification and game-based learning also keeps his students excited to come through the door. He manages to integrate games into science class materials, lessons, labs, activities, and projects with an enthusiastic reception.

In 2021, Gonzalez led his students to participate in a UNESCO Minecraft Global Build Challenge focused on sustainability.

“For education, Minecraft is the most versatile and easy to use game,” Gonzalez said.

His team of students identified various unsustainable challenges within their community, including replicating carbon filters to clean the air and inventing ways to clean polluted rivers. He helped guide students through their research to learn how to solve the problems sustainably, then the students built their solutions in a Minecraft town, showing their solution in action.

If all of that wasn’t enough, Gonzalez said he also leads his class in tree planting with the North American Salmon Coalition.


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