Poly Geology Teacher Named Nation’s Best

Poly High School geology teacher Mike Fillipow was recently honored as national Teacher of the Year by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Fillipow was encouraged to apply for the award by a City of Long Beach geologist who was familiar with the teacher’s hands-on, dynamic style--including field trips to oil islands and classroom demonstrations with home-made equipment. Fillipow will receive $5,000 for the honor, including $2,500 to use for his classes. Geology is rarely taught at the high school level--Fillipow’s two sections at Poly are the only geology classes in the Long Beach Unified School District. The UCLA engineering geology graduate teaches the same material taught at the university level. "I teach what they teach at Cal State," he said. "I use the same book." Students learn key concepts, including rock and mineral identification, geologic history, structural geology, plate tectonics, weathering and erosion, and, perhaps most importantly in Long Beach, earth resources, specifically oil. "Students don’t realize that here in Long Beach, we’re standing on top of the nation’s third largest oil reserve," he said. "They don’t know that. Then when we go out to the oil islands and talk about slant drilling and how the wells are angled to tap oil, they gain a new appreciation for what’s happening here." While lessons, guest speakers, field trips and an oil exploration game that shows students the economics of the petroleum business all give his students a clear grasp of this important resource, Fillipow doesn’t skimp on his other presentations. Hands-on sessions include earthquake simulators, plexiglass "squeeze boxes" that demonstrate the deformation of rock under extreme pressure, wooden blocks to acquaint students with the significance of the slope of rock layers and plaster of Paris fossil digs that challenge students to apply sound geological judgement. After only four years of teaching the class, he already counts a few of his former students pursuing geology degrees in college. A primary goal is to give his students a solid understanding that helps them analyze challenging energy policy issues and gives them a new appreciation of the earth’s natural features. "I want students to get excited about geology," he said. "If that happens, that’s a success for me."