Paul Andersen

Bozeman High School teacher Paul Andersen teaches an AP Biology class in this 2009 file photo.


Paul Andersen, a Bozeman High School science teacher known for his innovative use of technology in teaching, is one of four finalists for the national teacher of the year honor.

Andersen, 41, was named Montana's 2011 teacher of the year in September. Now he has been selected as a national finalist by a panel of educators from 14 large U.S. education organizations, according to the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.

"It's just very exciting," Andersen said Wednesday. "It's nice to be able to represent Montana."

He and the three other finalists from Florida, Illinois and Maryland will fly to Washington, D.C., in March for two days of interviews. President Barack Obama will announce the winner in May.

Andersen teaches college-level Advanced Placement biology at Bozeman High and a physical science class for gifted freshmen.

He is one of the founders of Bozeman High's Tech Junkies, an informal group of teachers and students who look for new ways to use technology to teach kids who are "digital natives."

For example, Andersen has his students use text-messaging on their cell phones to answer questions in class. He also has created a "virtual classroom" for his AP biology students on the school website, where students can review lectures, sample tests and flash cards, or ask each other questions after school.

Andersen posts 10-minute videos of his biology, chemistry and physical science lectures on the Internet. The number he has posted on YouTube is up to around 99, he said, and they have been seen 630,000 times by people from all over the world. He gets hundreds of comments from viewers, who let him know what does and doesn't work.

"It really does make you a better teacher," he said. "It's a neat feedback loop. They say things kids in your class would be too scared to tell you."

Andersen's teaching isn't all digital. For three summers, he and Bozeman High teacher Scott Taylor have also taken biology students on trips to the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin started developing his theory of evolution.

"I just have a passion for teaching," Andersen said last fall. The son of a Montana State University math professor, he said, "I would never want to do anything but teach."

If chosen as the 2011 teacher of the year, Andersen would be obliged to about 150 speaking engagements around the country.

"It would be bad to be out of the classroom," he said, but added, "It would be an amazing experience."

"This is an incredible honor for both Paul and Montana," Eric Feaver, head of the MEA-MFT teachers union and chair of the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation, said in a press release. "He is a terrific representative of the teaching profession."

Since the national teacher of the year awards started in 1952, one Montanan has won, Richard Nelson of Kalispell in 1956. Two have been top 10 finalists: Daniel Radakovich of Glasgow in 1963 and Madalen Sauber of Anaconda in 1964.

Jimmy Zhuang, a teaching fellow at Harvard in molecular and cellular biology, wrote the Chronicle last fall to commend Andersen for allowing his online lecture on cell division to be posted on an educational website, as a case study to show other teachers what works.

Zhuang praised Andersen for his courage, willingness to be critiqued, and "strong commitment to educational excellence."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.