Sewickley Academy Educator and Brentwood, PA Resident Receives Teacher of the Year Honor for Impact on Physics Education

SEWICKLEY, PA – The administration, faculty, and staff of Sewickley Academy are excited to share that Benjamin Spicer, a Senior School Science and Robotics teacher at Sewickley Academy in Sewickley, PA, and resident of Brentwood, PA, has been selected as a Local PhysTEC Teacher of the Year recognizing his exemplary contributions as an educator. During his 15 years at Sewickley Academy, Spicer has been a key contributor to the science and robotics programming creating unrivaled opportunities for students and graduates.
In an announcement to the Academy, Michael Wittmann, PhysTEC Project Director, said, “Benjamin’s contributions to physics education are significant and impactful on the students, colleagues, school district, and state at a time when the nation is in desperate need of qualified physics teachers…. Benjamin’s contributions are highly valued and respected, and we wish your faculty member many years of continued success as an educator.”

Spicer, who is passionate about improving scientific literacy for learners of all ages, is Sewickley Academy’s Science Department Chair.  Regarding this honor, he said, “It’s very humbling and somewhat embarrassing as I always want the focus to be on my students and all that they are accomplishing every day.” In describing his teaching style, he said, “I teach as if my students are future physics teachers. I am dedicated to giving them a memorable and inspiring first experience which includes a sound grasp of fundamental concepts that are connected together in a unified manner making it possible for them to apply scientific skills to explaining and predicting natural phenomena. It’s so rewarding to see their skills and conceptual development grow in a meaningful way that truly changes how they view the world.”

“Ben has a remarkable rapport with both his students and his colleagues at the Academy,” said Head of School Dr. Ashley Birtwell. “He continuously pushes the envelope to make sure we are at the cutting edge of technology education. Thanks to his contributions both in and out of the classroom, our graduates are able to approach their futures with confidence and a foundation of academic excellence. While we’re not surprised that Ben was selected, we are all so proud of him for receiving this honor.”

In his recommendation letter for the PhysTEC Teacher of the Year award, Mike Cesario, Manager of Special Projects at Sewickley Academy, was eager to point out that Spicer,” always puts students first, and he consistently advocates for what is best for them…. His students are actively engaged in the class, participate enthusiastically, and cannot help but be drawn into the content…. He blends math, science, and technology masterfully to keep his students engaged and learning.”

Spicer said, “I believe that each student has a place in STEM. Teaching them about the power of inquiry, and evidence-based reasoning can inspire them to find their own unique path toward contributing to the STEM community.”

Sewickley Academy is implementing a new and innovative Pre-K through Grade 12 Computer Science program for the 2022-23 academic year and undergoing renovations to include enhanced robotics and computer science instruction that incorporates cybersecurity and artificial intelligence in the course offerings. An e-gaming suite is also being added to the campus. The upgrades are in response to student demand and interest in further STEM study and recognition of our region’s development as a technology leader.  

“We are fortunate to have some of the latest technology and the support of an administration and Board of Trustees who recognize the significance of continued growth both in the resources available to the students and in the professional development of the faculty and staff,” said Spicer, who is actively involved in the expansion of the robotics curriculum. “I continue to support my colleagues with new initiatives such as coding for learning science concepts and high-speed video analysis. It has been a joy learning alongside my colleagues and students as we continue to push the boundaries of what it means to learn and do science.”

Throughout his career with Sewickley Academy, Spicer has developed numerous science and mathematics courses to meet student interest and fulfill curriculum needs, such as Geoscience, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences, Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Advanced Robotics. He has also facilitated many independent study courses ranging from Virology to Astrophysics. “I have been fortunate to teach so many students who are as passionate about these subjects as I am, many of whom have continued their studies in some of the best STEM programs in the world. I could not be prouder of their accomplishments and the program we have built to support them.” Additionally, Spicer has worked to expand his students’ opportunities by developing a partnership between the Academy and Robert Morris University (RMU) beginning this year in which Academy juniors and seniors can enroll in introductory engineering courses at RMU at a discounted rate.
 
Spicer’s participation in science education at Sewickley Academy extends to extracurriculars as well. He helped organize a FIRST Robotics team in 2009 that now includes both Middle and Senior school teams. As a trained audio engineer, he has spent many years improving sound production and teaching students technical applied physics while they prepare for multiple theatrical and orchestral performances annually at the Academy. Additionally, Spicer sponsors the Academy’s Science Club and coaches the Science Bowl team. He also supported students in creating a Science Buddies program in which the Science Club members showcase interactive demonstrations for students in Grades 3 - 5.
 
Spicer is a volunteer with the Carnegie Science Center, particularly in the Buhl Observatory, and at stargazing events through the Amateur Astronomers Association of Pittsburgh and area local libraries.  “Libraries, museums, and astronomy were my gateways into physics, and I hope that my support of those institutions provides as much inspiration to others as was given to me,” he said. He also hosts “star parties” for the students of Sewickley Academy and their families.

In addition to his work with Sewickley Academy, Spicer is an adjunct instructor in the Masters of Science in Science Education program at Montana State University-Bozeman, the organization that nominated him for the award. He is a graduate of PennWest California University where he simultaneously earned three bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics, Physics, and Secondary Education and Teaching while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. He has a Master of Arts degree in Physics Education from the University of Virginia and a Master of Science degree in Science Education from Montana State University-Bozeman.
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