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ORAU awards 2012 Extreme Classroom Makeover to Pigeon Forge Middle School

Fifth grade math and science teacher Heather Burkhart wins $30,000 prize for classroom technology enhancements

May 1, 2012

Pigeon Forge Middle School Student celebrate

ORAU presented Heather Burkhart, a fifth grade math and science teacher at Pigeon Forge Middle School in Sevier County, $30,000 to realize her dream of enhanced technology in her classroom.

PIGEON FORGE, Tenn.—Teacher creativity and imagination were rewarded today when Oak Ridge Associated Universities presented Heather Burkhart, a fifth grade math and science teacher at Pigeon Forge Middle School in Sevier County, $30,000 to realize her dream of enhanced technology in her classroom. The funding is part of ORAU’s annual Extreme Makeover Competition, now in its fourth year.

Through her winning video, Burkhart shows the impact that technology would have on her class by imagining how she would engage and teach her students with the help of iPads, laptops and iPods. Burkhart’s students also express the desire to complete their class lessons and learn on various forms of updated technology.

“According to many studies, students start to lose interest in the areas of science and math around the fifth grade,” explained ORAU President and CEO Andy Page. “However, ORAU believes through programs like the Extreme Classroom Makeover, we can excite the imaginations of teachers and students.”

One of the goals of the contest is to also encourage local businesses to support the mission of putting technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning. This year, ORAU received a donation of $10,000 from Randy Boyd, CEO of Radio Systems Corporation.

“I am proud to partner with ORAU in recognizing an outstanding teacher in the East Tennessee area and helping a classroom with such a critical transformation,” said Boyd. “Programs like the Extreme Classroom Makeover help motivate students by giving them the tools that will keep them engaged and stimulated in the learning process.”

Page and Boyd surprised the winning teacher Tuesday during a school-wide assembly at Pigeon Forge Middle School.

ORAU is engaged in the mission of advancing K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematic (STEM) initiatives for our schools in East Tennessee. ORAU’s Extreme Classroom Makeover highlights and supports educators like Burkhart who are working on the front lines of the education system and illustrates how technology in the classroom helps teachers inspire more students to pursue math- and science-based careers. Increasing student interest in these fields helps to improve global competitiveness in technology, math and science-based industries.

Contestants entering ORAU’s competition are required to meet specific criteria. They must teach math or science for fifth through eighth grade and work for a public school located within 50 miles of Oak Ridge. Additionally, a teacher must submit a short video illustrating the classroom’s need and explain how the new technologies would be used to energize and enhance learning.

For years, ORAU’s university consortium and its strong partnerships with the U.S. Department of Energy and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have uniquely positioned the company as a strong ally in promoting science education.

Next steps for Pigeon Forge Middle School include the selection, purchase and setup of new technology to make over the classroom. ORAU will unveil the redesigned classroom in a special reveal event in late summer before the new school year.

ORAU will follow Burkhart’s class during the 2012-2013 academic school year to track how she is using the technology. Burkhart and her students will be encouraged to blog about the experience and share their learning experiences with others.

Last year’s grand prize winner was Herman Sutton, a teacher at Green Magnet Math and Science Academy in Knoxville, Tenn. Previous winners also include Rocky Hill Elementary School’s Jordan Haney and Jenny Alvey from Gresham Middle School. All three winners have purchased items such as additional computers, iPads, digital cameras, a clicker system, television, Promethean boards and other technology that helped advance their students’ learning activities.

View the winning video for the Extreme Classroom Makeover competition at

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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