HARRISON — Harrison Elementary School’s sixth grade STEM teacher Rob Ripley is being honored this month by the Maine Science Teachers Association for his commitment to his students and their education. One of two recipients of the association’s monthly award, Ripley’s accomplishment was announced by Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School science teacher Cameron Sutton, who also represents Oxford Hills with the MSTA.

Harrison Elementary School teacher Rob Ripley was just recognized by the Maine Science Teachers Association. Supplied photo

According to Margaret Emery, principal at Harrison, Ripley is more than deserving of recognition.

“Rob is one of my right-hand people,” Emery told the Advertiser Democrat. “Going back to his hire date. He jumped right in and he has become a valued member of our educator team.”

Emery said that after the pandemic hit and schools scrambled to find ways to engage students while social distancing Ripley obtained a grant from the Maine Environmental Education Association to purchase picnic tables so classes could be held outside in fresh air.

He also got a grant to build a nature trail at the school, which became a classroom for the students who helped build it.

It was also Ripley who, along colleague Bailey Graffam, enrolled Harrison Elementary School in Maine’s Winter Kids program as a way to get students outside and connected to the environment.


Ripley graduated from Oxford Hills schools, the University of Maine Farmington where he majored in science and the University of Southern Maine with a masters degree  in educational leadership and curriculum. He taught in Lewiston for one year before returning to SAD 17 in Harrison.

He counts former Guy E. Rowe Elementary School teacher Jim Norton and current Rowe teacher Marsha Wood as early influences on his career in education; now those mentors are his colleagues.

“Marsha inspired me to not only be a better person,” Ripley said. “But also just to see the powers that teachers can have. So it was interesting to go back and now call her Marsha and not Ms. Wood all the time.”

In addition to teaching at SAD 17, Ripley teaches during the summer, previously at a science camp in West Virginia and more recently at the Governor’s School for Math and Science, which is held at a radio astronomy observatory.

“In both programs the idea of inquiry, of asking through questions is the philosophy,” Ripley explained. “Rather than, here’s this thing that happens, here’s why, it’s ‘why do we think something might happen? What do you notice?’

“I bring those philosophies to my teaching as well. When we talk about science topics it’s through the lens of wondering and asking why we think something happened and guiding the students to make discoveries on their own … I pose questions for students (instead of) statements so they discover things on their own rather than being the receiver of information (from me).”


Students don’t just learn by the book in science class at Harrison Elementary School. Here, sixth-graders dissect a pig heart during Rob Ripley’s unit on circulation. Supplied photo

One unit that most elementary students seldom have an opportunity to participate in, was dissecting a pig heart.

“Some kids were really excited about that, while others wanted nothing to do with it,” Ripley said. “We only did it once, before the pandemic. We studied circulation and were able to see how heart works and the valve that opens and closes, using a model of an actual heart.

“You can look at pictures but it’s not the same as being able to move the pieces and see how it’s directly connected. To put their finger through the aorta and into the ventricle. It really got the students into thinking about what they might do later, like being a doctor or surgeon or veterinarian.”

Restrictions including social distancing have put a stop to holding such hands-on labs for students but the pandemic provided new ways to learning about another important science topic, the immune system.

“I never suspected I’d have a real world application to teach that,” Ripley said. “Now, students ask more in depth questions about the immune system based on what’s happening today because of the pandemic. It connects to their lives so it piques their interest a little bit more versus abstract things they learn about because they have to.”

Recognition from the the MSTA is an honor, but Ripley has more goals to achieve as a teacher.

“There are a lot of places where I need to keep being better and keep growing,” he said. “By working on (school and district level) committees, with the instructional coach and my administrator, going to professional development as I am able to, those are ways I can keep improving. I’m always trying to find something that will work for me and that I can share with my students and be a better teacher.”

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