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Washington State University
College of Education

2013 Ferrucci Distinguished Educator Award – Diane Franks

Diane Franks and Andy Cavagnetto 990x460
Diane Franks (left) is the 2014 Ferrucci Distinguished Educator Award winner. On the right is Andy Cavagneto, College of Educator science educator, and principal investigator of the EUCAPS research project.

Pomeroy teacher excels at argument-based inquiry instruction

Diane Franks has moxie. She’s not afraid to take a risk and, as a teacher, engage in instruction that makes many feel uncomfortable.

She has embraced the messiness of learning science. And she’s gaining respect in the process.

“If you walk into her classroom, you will hear kids debating each other about the knowledge claims they’re making,” said associate professor Andy Cavagnetto, a science educator in WSU’s College of Education, as well as the School of Biological Sciences. “Diane gives them space to have those conversations, yet she still continuously shepherds her students toward the target science concepts.”

Because of this, the 7th- and 8th-grade teacher in the Pomeroy School District is the 2013 recipient of the Ferrucci Distinguished Educator Award.

The award was established to revitalize and update teachers’ math and science teaching methods, and to help teachers adapt their methods to interest children in mathematics, sciences, and technology.

“I believe Diane was given the Ferrucci award because her passion for teaching and her vision for ‘pushing the envelope’ in the classroom was evident in her application,” Cavagnetto said.

Teaching through argument

Franks is part of a project called EUCAPS, which stands for Enhancing Understanding of Concepts and Practices of Science.

The driving force behind EUCAPS is what’s known as argument-based inquiry (Science Writing Heuristic Approach). In essence, kids learn science more effectively when they are forced to communicate their hypotheses, observations, and findings to their peers. It’s almost like being part of a debate team for science.

That’s tough for kids. But Franks facilitates the cordial controversy rather nicely.

“As science teachers we need to relinquish the notion of the scientific method being a rigid set of steps and a fixed body of knowledge, but rather embrace science as being a process that includes creativity, imagination, intuition, and thinking outside the box,” Franks wrote in her award application. “The role of a teacher needs to change from being the “expert” to a guide who leads students to conduct their own investigations. We need to encourage students to collect evidence and make claims supported by their evidence.”

Cavagnetto, who is EUCAPS lead investigator, said Franks is well suited to teaching young teens.

“Diane understands how kids learn and she respects them by having high expectations, treating them as though they can do things and as though they can make meaningful contributions to the world even at a young age,” Cavagnetto said. “She is an intelligent strategic teacher who cares deeply about her students and is committed to supporting their continued growth.”

The Ferrucci Award

The Ferrucci award is named for Dr. Vitt and Mary Ferrucci. It is a salaried summer sabbatical, of up to six weeks, on the WSU Pullman campus. It is given each year to one outstanding K-12 science, mathematics, or technology teacher. Recipients of this award receive paid travel, lodging, and project expenses as well as a stipend. For Franks, that amount is about $20,000.

Because Diane is located close enough to Pullman, she has been able to do a considerable amount of work from her school in Pomeroy. But she still has visited the Pullman campus multiple times. While on campus, she worked with Cavagnetto, assistant professor of math education Rich Lamb, and college IT director Matthew Vaughn on the integration of lab probeware and iPads into her science instruction.

“I would like to focus on some big science ideas for all of my classes, and design and develop science experiences that are infused with technology that I haven’t historically been able to offer,” Franks said. “I want these experiences to result in a deeper and more enduring understanding of fundamental science concepts. Rich experiences like this do not happen so much by what we teach but how we teach.”

CONTACT: Andy Cavagnetto at and 509.35.6391.