An administrator once asked Dr. Lorry Getz what his teaching goals were.
“I have three,” Getz replied. “One, to encourage my students to always ask questions. Two, to develop the skills and techniques necessary to answer these questions, and three, to laugh and enjoy yourself every day. Learning must be fun.”
Getz’ philosophy of fun is but a small part of why he was named the 2017 Colorado Science & Engineering Fair Teacher of the Year on April 7. However, it is a big part of why his classes at Liberty Middle School are perpetually popular.
“Whether it is his bad jokes, his infectious laughter, his love of animals, his passion for his subject or his caring for his kids, Dr. Getz’s classes are the most requested in the school and the highlight of many students’ daily schedules,” said Katy Beaudrie, a social studies teacher at Liberty.
As a fellow educator and the parent of a Liberty student, Beaudrie has witnessed the magic of Getz’s work with middle schoolers. She says they learn in his classroom because he combines thought-provoking material with effective teaching and lots of humor and serves it up in an environment where students feel safe and respected and are encouraged to ask questions, challenge ideas and voice their own opinions. Students leave his classes feeling empowered to share what they’ve learned.
“This is an example of truly remarkable teaching, when students are able to seamlessly transfer knowledge gained in his classroom to other subject areas,” Beaudrie said. “Plus, if a middle school student truly appreciates what happens in the classroom, enough to take the risk of sharing it in other classes, the learning must be that of total engagement and understanding.”
Like his students, Getz clearly loves learning. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Science Education from the University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, a master’s degree from the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York City and a Ph.D. from the University of Denver. His teaching career began in Wisconsin, then took him to Kobe, Japan and Liberia, West Africa where he served as a Peace Corps volunteer. After teaching in New York City and Denver, Getz came to the Cherry Creek School District. He spent three years at Horizon Community Middle School and the past 14 years at Liberty Middle School, where he built an impressive Science Fair program from the ground up.
Getz went to classes and workshops and talked to other teachers about science fairs. He developed science fair guidelines and drafted letters to parents, staff and outside experts. He recruited judges from across the district and put them through his own “teacher to science fair judge training program.”
“This is where you learned to use the forms he created, how to approach the students to reduce stress, what questions give you the most information and how to have fun while doing all of this,” said fellow Liberty science teacher Dillon Glatthar.
In the beginning, the Liberty Science Fair was just for Getz’ sixth-grade students. But over the years, it’s grown from 25 students and three judges to over 350 students. An average of 25 to 30 Liberty students qualify for the Regional Science Fair and, for the last four years, Getz has had at least two students go on to the Colorado Science Fair. What’s more, the Liberty Science Fair now includes special needs students, who partner with students from Getz’ seventh-grade advanced science class to create and present science fair projects. As a result, Liberty sent its first special needs student to the Regional Science Fair in 2016.
“His dedication has provided all Liberty students with the opportunity to experience the excitement, creativity and joy that comes from participating in the science fair,” Glatthar said. He added that participating in the fair and having Getz as a teacher has had a lifelong impact on some students.
“What greater tribute to his love and dedication to science can there be than the fact that several of his former students have decided to major in science in college and a few have even gone on to medical school, because of the spark he ignited in them years ago.”
The 2017 Colorado Science & Engineering Fair Teacher of the Year award, sponsored by Lockheed Martin, honors teachers who demonstrate excellence in teaching in any of the disciplines related to science and engineering. As the 2017 award recipient, Getz received a $3,000 grant to support student research and enhance instruction in the sciences and engineering.