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Award-Winning Teacher Danielle Doherty-Koch No Longer a “Fish Out of Water”

Danielle Doherty-Koch never considered herself a guru when it came to human anatomy. Nor did she envision becoming a teacher. As a student, the Long Island native was fascinated by marine science so she went to Florida Gulf Coast University. At the doorstep of the pristine Estero Bay Preserve, it was an ideal place to study her dream.

Things started to change in her senior year at the college when she worked as an intern at the local aquarium. She loved the fish and the animals. Yet, in engaging with the aquarium visitors, she “saw what an impact you could make by educating people on the environment and what’s going on with the local wildlife and ecology.”

One might say: a teacher was born.

A good one.

Danielle-Doherty Koch with her Biomedical students and Dr. Vince Bertam, president and CEO of Project Lead the Way, after receiving her award from PLTW.

She was named Teacher of the Year for her district. She’s also been named Robert and Patricia Kern National Project Lead the Way Teacher of the Year. Doherty-Koch teaches Biomedical Science Honors and Marine Science Honors at Crystal River High School in Citrus County, Florida.

Says Crystal River principal Phillip McLeod, “her students love her, and she loves her students.”

Doherty-Koch became a PLTW teacher in just her second year of teaching at Crystal River. The program is based out of the high school’s Academy of Health Careers, which offers four-year coursework in biomedical sciences, dentistry, nursing, veterinary assisting, and emergency medical technician to about 250 students. Most of the students, Doherty-Koch says, go on to attend four-year universities, but there are others who, through program-provided certifications, enter straight into the workforce.

Reflecting about her switch from marine science to the more human anatomy-focused curriculum of PLTW, Doherty-Koch admits she felt like a “fish out of water.” But at the initial training for the Human Body Systems course, she encountered an equalizer of sorts: the ANATOMY IN CLAY® MANIKEN® models. She thought they “were the coolest things ever.”

Now, of course, she’s an expert in human anatomy. The MANIKEN® models play a big part in the variety of classes that she teaches.

When students meet their models, “it’s a very exciting day,” says Doherty-Koch. “I do balloons. I open up a cabinet, and they find out if it’s a boy or a girl.” Students receive birth certificates for their specific models and love getting their “babies.” One of the saddest days of the school year is the “death day,” when students have to pack up and say goodbye to the models on which they have built the various systems found in the human body.

Doherty-Koch is aware that some students may feel like she did when beginning with Anatomy in Clay® models. She finds a useful starting point to remind students: “I’m not grading you as an artist; I’m looking for the correct anatomy.” On the other hand, she has students that bring in their own tools, and proceed to tell the teacher, “This is going to be the best MANIKEN® model you’ll ever see.”

Doherty-Koch’s favorite system to build is the digestive system, partly to see how students cope with the challenge of “making it all stay” in the abdominal cavity. Sometimes students will want to put the intestines up in the chest cavity (because it fits better), at which point the teacher asks student, “where will the heart go?” Other times, the stomach will fall on the floor, at which point Doherty-Koch calls for emergency surgery. “We make light of it, and they’re learning as they’re doing it,” says the teacher.

The big advantage with the ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System in Doherty-Koch’s classrooms is that students get more and more comfortable with anatomy terminology as they are building. Students can appreciate scale and have the ability to adjust their models in real time.

Hear more from the acclaimed teacher on the ANATOMY IN CLAY® Learning System's podcast!






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