Teacher: ‘I keep learning all the time’
Every day, Dave Larson has lunch with a group of outstanding educators — his colleagues in the McMinnville School District. “There are so many amazing teachers here,” he said.
Consequently, the science, technology, engineering and math teacher feels “a little embarrassed” to be the one honored this year as McMinnville’s Outstanding Young Educator.
The distinction, bestowed through the community’s Distinguished Service Awards program, makes him reflect on his constant efforts to become better at his work. “I keep learning all the time,” he said.
Larson tries to encourage his students to do so as well. His STEM classes at Patton and Duniway middle schools teach students not only how to use tools, program computers and build working machines, but also to figure things out for themselves. “I want them to have the confidence to try new things, push themselves to think, solve problems,” he said.
Larson grew up in Massachusetts and Wisconsin. The son of a teacher, he started college thinking he would go into sports medicine. A piano, guitar and bass player, he ended up graduating with a degree in elementary education with a focus on music.
His future wife, Spanish teacher Carrie Larson, encouraged his interest in working with youngsters. But while she was doing practice teaching at an elementary school, he felt a pull toward middle school. He has empathy for young adolescents and shares their sense of humor, he said.
“Middle school kids are trying to figure out where they’re coming from and how to become individuals,” he said.
At his first teaching job in Illinois, he had a chance to develop an applied technology program — drafting, design, robotics, etc. — for grades six through eight.
He came to McMinnville in 2006 as a middle school core teacher. He was excited when the district asked him to use what he’d learned in applied technology to develop a STEM program, first at Patton, then at Duniway as well.
Larson leads STEM at both schools. Anna Gradek joins him at Patton and Nathan Murray at Duniway.
Students weren’t sure about STEM at first, he said. Some wanted to stick with traditional woodshop classes.
But now they realize STEM gives them the chance to learn about and use tools, plus problem solving, designing, building 3-D models, making rockets and creating and programming robots.
“It’s more real-world application,” Larson said. “And it’s fun, too.”