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Remembering Terry Joe Shaw

Larry Malone, FOSS Co-director
March 12, 2014 | In Memoriam

On December 21, 2013, the FOSS family suffered a heavy loss. Dr. Terry Shaw died after a courageous six-year struggle with cancer. Terry was born on January 20, 1947, in northern Oklahoma. He grew up son of a wheat farmer, and attended school in Burlington, Oklahoma, where he graduated valedictorian in 1964. Not destined to devote his life to the soil, he entered Oklahoma State University where he earned his BS degree in biochemistry. Terry then migrated to California here he earned his MS in molecular biology at the University of California at San Diego while doing cancer research at the prestigious Salk Institute. After that pursuit, he moved to Arizona where he had his first experience teaching school science and was voted the Litchfield teacher of the year in 1973. Following the tragic loss of his first wife, Terry returned to Oklahoma where he earned his PhD in science education from Oklahoma State University (1973-77). In 1975, Terry remarried, and he and Thelia raised two children, Tarren and Tana, while Terry taught middle school science at Stillwater Middle School and Irving Middle School (Norman). Terry was an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Kansas State University starting in 1979 and was tenured in 1983, but he missed the excitement of working with younger students and chose to follow his passion into the middle school classroom.

In the mid 1990s, NSTA conferences caused our path and Terry's to converge. A somewhat random conversation began and ranged widely, including fragments touching on curriculum development, classroom practice, digital technology in the middle school curriculum, and outdoor experiences in middle school science. (Terry was one of a handful of public school educators who knew and used OBIS activities from the Lawrence Hall of Science in his practice.) Over a number of encounters at various NSTA conferences, the conversation expanded and intensified. We were drawn to his warm personality, depth of classroom experience, and wealth of ideas and boundless creativity. The conversation naturally progressed to the possibility of a career change: FOSS curriculum developer.

In June 1997, Terry and Thelia made an exploratory excursion to Berkeley, California, to survey the work environment and meet with us and Dr. Susan Brady. Terry found the circumstance acceptable, and in the fall, we negotiated a release agreement with his district so that Terry could relocate to Berkeley. Thelia secured a position as a school counselor in West Contra County USD and the family plan was set. In September 1997, Terry loaded his old pickup and motored to Berkeley where they had secured an apartment. That first night after moving in, his truck was stolen (welcome to Berkeley), never to be seen again. After that rocky start, Terry settled into his new routine as a full-time science curriculum developer. At the end of the first year, we renegotiated the release agreement and Terry continued for a second year in Berkeley.

After completing his second year at the Lawrence Hall of Science, Terry found it necessary to return to Oklahoma to attend to family obligations, and to resume his classroom responsibilities at his school. After completing one last year in the middle school classroom, he retired. Terry continued to work for FOSS on a part-time basis, doing mostly professional development work around the country. During this time, Terry also cared for his wife Thelia, who died of leukemia in 2005. In the summer of 2006, we recruited him to again assume full-time work as both a professional development specialist and a curriculum developer, which he did with amazing energy and grace right up until the end. Anyone visiting Terry at work found him in his large home basement office, surrounded by FOSS boxes and critters.

The beginning of 2007 found Terry married to Skye Diers, owner and director of the Gingerbread Preschool in Norman. Terry fell in love not only with Skye, but with all those 3-4 year olds who played and worked so creatively in the wonderful indoor and outdoor environments.

Terry was an active member of NSTA throughout his career as a member of the middle level committee, and served on other committees dealing with awards, convention planning, and instructional models supported by technology. He presented over 80 sessions at NSTA conferences on environmental education, designing inquiry oriented earth science and life science curricula to address misconceptions, improving the attitudes of at-risk students toward science, and developing middle level science teacher education programs. He was meticulous in his preparation for these sessions, and presented them with passion as he engaging the participants in the hands-on inquiry that he loved.

He wrote and received numerous grants for special projects, but the one that was most important to him was the TAPESTRY Grant in 1994 (Toyota and NSTA sponsored) for $10,000 to support a student project to increase the reproductive success of the interior least tern in Oklahoma, an endangered species.

Terry's outstanding contributions to science education were recognized at the local, state, and national levels. The honors that were most dear to him included:

  • The National Environmental/Conservation Teacher of the Year by the National Association of Conservation Districts, 1978;
  • The Outstanding Teacher of the Year at Oklahoma State University (OSU), 1979;
  • The Outstanding Middle Level Science Teacher in the State of Oklahoma, 1988;
  • The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching, 1992; and
  • OSU College of Education Hall of Fame induction, April 2013.

Terry was one of those exceptional people who we are privileged to meet a time or two in a lifetime. He was just flat out good in every way imaginable; reliable, interested, interesting, supportive, brilliant, patient, fun-loving, curious, mischievous, analytical, reasonable, compassionate, courageous, resilient, and a good friend. Terry has returned home to take his rest in the fertile soil in the Keith Cemetery, surrounded by wheat fields, within view of his family farm. His matter has departed the company of the FOSS staff who loved him dearly, but his spirit hovers in and around everything we do and think. God Bless Terry Joe Shaw.