Pat Merrick wants all students to get science and the impact it has on the decisions they make and our world. So, he doesn’t stand still. He keeps changing, inventing new classes, securing funds for new projects and bringing humor to every lesson.
“For Mr. Merrick, engaging students in the classroom does not mean students need to get up and moving,” MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan said. “He brings every day lessons to life in ways that capture attention and more importantly, help students learn.”
In a lesson about the periodic table, he compared the items to dating in high school, sharing a detailed story about potassium and sulfur sitting at the town’s one stoplight.
Calling it the “periodic high school,” he kept asking the Westbrook-Walnut Grove students, “Who’s most attractive?” They laugh and answer as they showed their understanding of “rank” in chemistry.
Humor of Life
“Mercury is kind of toxic; don’t hang out with mercury,” he tells the class of students as they bust into laughter during first period. “Is there a rule we can create to determine who is more attractive than others in the periodic high school?”
The students take to the whiteboard to share their thinking. He keeps challenging them with new ideas and concept and creates an environment where all students are willing to answer – even when they don’t if they are right.
“I’m going to ask you a question you won’t know the answer to,” he said. The students lean in, more eager to answer. They have freedom. It’s something that he seeks to establish the first day they walk into one of his classes.
A Safe Space
That level of security extends beyond science and learning. “Some of my kids have major issues, from homelessness and addiction to loneliness and bullying,” said Merrick who has taught for about 25 years in the district.
“Those issues will exist, but within My Four Walls, we can leave them behind for a little while. We can dream and learn and grow. My four walls are safe, and within them, so are they.”
Merrick has been known to develop new courses, like his popular E.A.R.T.H Yes class. His classes have been leaders in the community, starting a recycling center for the local community, installing a wind turbine to power the outdoor lights and turning plastic bags into bracelets to sell to raise money. The projects are constantly changing. He keeps seeking innovative funding streams to make them happen.
“He will change his teaching just because he wants to get ahold of the students,” said fellow educator Josh Barron. “He will change the courses he’s teaching because that’s what the students need at that specific time. He is not set in a specific way. He will do what he needs to do to make sure it if for the students.”
He wants them to get it. He’s been a curious learner and listener. “One of the best advices I have is that ‘What you do is not as important as what they get,’ ” Merrick said.
Educator of Excellence
MREA honored Merrick as a 2019 Educator of Excellence for his innovation, collaboration and unwavering commitment to get results for his students. See more stories of Educators for Excellence.