Paul Andersen

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

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Paul Andersen's students were openly texting in class, but the Bozeman High School teacher didn't confiscate their cell phones.

In fact, Andersen actually wants students in his college-level, Advanced Placement biology class to text in their answers electronically to his "question of the day."

The classroom was silent Tuesday morning as 30 students concentrated on tapping out their ideas with their thumbs. Each student's answer then showed up instantly, projected at the front of the classroom for all to see and discuss. It's more efficient, Andersen said, than having kids write on slips of paper and reading their ideas aloud.

"It's using what our generation is used to," said student Morgan West, 15.

"He's really awesome," Solomon Amsden, 16, said of Andersen. "He does things no other teachers do."

Andersen has posted 10-minute podcasts of his biology lectures - about 70 so far -- on YouTube, where they've been seen 350,000 times by people from Africa to Brazil.

Andersen has created a "virtual classroom" website for his AP biology class that extends his teaching beyond the school day. On the school district's Moodle website, he posts video lectures, flash cards and sample tests, and students can chat online or ask each other questions at night. About 90 percent his students pass the national AP biology exam.

And as a founder of the high school's Tech Junkies group, Andersen encourages other teachers to try out new technologies in their classroom.

Such innovations are just one reason why Andersen has been named Montana's 2011 "teacher of the year." The honor from the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation means he'll get a trip to the White House, a chance to meet the president and a trip to a space camp next summer.

This is the second year in a row that a Bozeman teacher has won the state honor, Superintendent Kirk Miller told the School Board on Monday night.

"It's very humbling but also very exciting," Andersen, 41, said Tuesday, sitting in his office, decorated with pictures of his kids and a life-size cutout of Mr. Spock. "There are so many great teachers here."

Andersen also has just been named by the National School Boards Association as one of its "20 to Watch" technology leaders. Miller joked that Andersen's luck was so good, he should run out and buy a lottery ticket.

Kids are "digital natives," Andersen likes to say. He sees technology, not as a gimmick, but as a way to improve learning.

For example, he assigns students to watch a 10-minute podcast of his lecture on a topic like evolution on their home computers the night before. Then they come to class, better prepared to learn and ask better questions.

"I think most kids would say it's a hard class, but it's fun," he said. He avoids PowerPoint and straight lectures. "It's boring. I don't want to just read the book to them. I want to add stories and discussion."

The fun in Tuesday's class included a spirited discussion of evolution, followed by a quick round of Simon Says. It gets kids out of their seats and wakes them up, he said.

Andersen also uses technology to connect with kids. Beka Frome, 15, said Andersen looked up his students on the school Web site. "He learned all our names before the first day of school."

Andersen grew up in Bozeman, his dad a Montana State University math professor and his mother working on overseas adoptions. He graduated from Bozeman High in 1988, and studied biology at MSU.

For seven years he taught science in a small rural school on the HiLine, and then was hired at Bozeman High.

Andersen said his interest in technology picked up three years ago, when he took over as the high school's technology coordinator and trainer.

Three times, Andersen has taken biology students on summer trips to the Galapagos Islands, where Charles Darwin made observations leading to his theory of evolution.

"I just have a passion for teaching," Andersen said. The best part, he said, is "just the reaction from the kids, the looks on their faces."

Andersen and his wife, Laura, who works for the Central Asia Institute, have two children, Noah, a freshman, and Hanne, a sixth-grader. When he's not teaching, he enjoys running and Nordic skiing.

Asked if he couldn't make more money using his tech skills in the business world, Andersen smiled. "I would never want to do anything but teach."

"The thing that really impresses me is his creativity, and his enthusiasm," Principal Rob Watson said. "He's just a wonderful teacher."

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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