Todd Fritchman conducts a class in an outdoor wetland
Todd Fritchman, a high school science teacher at Indian River High School, is the winner of the 2005 Governor's Marine Science Teacher-of-the-Year Award. Fritchman is the fourth recipient of the prestigious award, which is bestowed annually.
The award was established by the University of Delaware Sea Grant College Program, in partnership with the Office of the Governor, to recognize an outstanding Delaware teacher who demonstrates a strong commitment to educating students about marine and coastal resources.
In the official award letter, Ruth Ann Minner, governor of the state of Delaware, and Nancy Targett, interim director of the Delaware Sea Grant College Program and interim dean of UD's College of Marine Studies, praised Fritchman for his significant talents and accomplishments in marine and aquatic science education.
"The judges were very impressed by the many ways in which you engage your students in learning about the marine and coastal resources that are so critical to our quality of life," they wrote.
Fritchman, who has been teaching classes in biology and environmental science since 1989, has developed an innovative new curriculum based on the marine sciences. For example, he explains the concept of energy flow in ecosystems by using aquatic organisms and aquatic food webs and food chains.
Energy flow is a fundamental characteristic of ecosystems and is most easily seen in the food chain, in which one population in an ecosystem feeds upon another. For example, plant organisms such as marine algae capture energy from the sun, which is used to convert nutrients into a source of stored energy that is needed for plant growth.
This stored energy is transferred to herbivores, or those organisms that feed on plants. In turn, carnivores feed on the herbivores and on other carnivores to obtain the energy and resources they need to survive. At each step in this process, energy is transferred from one organism to another, with some energy released as heat into the environment.
"I was excited to win the award," says Fritchman, who has a master's degree in biological education from Delaware State University in Dover and a bachelor's degree in biology as well as a teaching certificate from Salisbury State University in Salisbury, Maryland. "It was actually through the hard work and dedication of my students that I won the award. They bought into the program and were interested in the aquatic theme."
Fritchman also helped to design and construct an outdoor wetland area that he uses to give his students valuable hands-on experience. This also provides him with a ready resource to demonstrate the concepts he is teaching. "I can simply take a dip net down to our outdoor wetland, scoop up what I need, and bring it right back into the classroom."
In addition, Fritchman, along with his fellow teacher Kevin Cordrey, helped establish an aquaculture program at Indian River High School, in which the students cultivated and sold more than 100 rainbow trout. Fritchman and Cordrey designed and built a "river simulation" pond, which mimics a natural freshwater pool found in streams or rivers of northern Pennsylvania or New York. Complete with a waterfall, the 14-foot-wide by 53-foot-long pond was 5 feet deep.
Judges from the DuPont Office of Education, the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Delaware Department of Education, Delaware State Parks, and the University of Delaware selected Fritchman based on four major criteria: creativity, innovation, quality of teaching, and impact on students. Nominees submitted information regarding their programs, lesson plans, and activities focusing on the marine environment; student impact; and examples underscoring their commitment to marine education.
As this year's winner, Fritchman will receive an all-expense-paid trip to the National Science Teachers Association conference, which will be held April 6-9, 2006, in Anaheim, California. He also will be recognized at the University of Delaware's annual Coast Day festival, on Sunday, October 2, at the Lewes campus, where he will have the opportunity to share project ideas and teaching techniques.
Fritchman lives in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with his wife, Kelly, and two children. In addition to teaching at Indian River High School, he is captain of the Dewey Beach Patrol in Delaware -- a position he has held for the past 10 years. He has been a lifeguard for 25 years. He also is the committee chairman for the Center for the Inland Bays Water Use Plan and the science education coordinator for the Sussex County Land Trust.
The call for nominations for next year's award will be issued in January 2006. For more information, please contact the Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service at (302) 645-4346.