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Not at All “Skeewompous:” Todd Summerhays Makes Physics Fun at Olympus High School

Jun 08, 2016 11:32AM ● Published by Stephanie Lauritzen

By Stephanie Lauritzen | stephanie@mycityjournals.com

Holladay - High school students preparing for the Advanced Placement exams spend most of April and May anxiously reviewing test materials and hoping their hard work earns them the college credit that comes with a passing score. But students in Todd Summerhays’ AP Physics class at Olympus High School have a secret weapon in helping them master the complexities of a notoriously tough subject — their teacher. “I stay after school every day to help students. I also eat my lunch in my classroom so students can get help during lunch. I give my phone number to my AP students so they can call while they are working on their homework,” Summerhays said. 

Summerhays, one of 11 Granite District educators to receive an Excel Award this year, is devoted to helping his students learn. Beyond putting in extra time outside of class, Summerhays devises creative ways to keep his students engaged in class. “I have some unusual teaching techniques … I use crazy made-up words and ideas to help the students remember important concepts. One example is when I teach vectors. Two-dimensional vectors are very common, but not useful when trying to apply mathematics to them. So we have to break the two-dimensional vectors into two one-dimensional vectors. This concept is VERY important, so to stress the importance, I call two-dimensional vectors skeewompous vectors. I tell my students that skeewompous vectors are evil and that we must destroy all skeewompous vectors!”

The non-traditional methods seem to work, with past students taking the time to write their former teacher and thanking him for his hard work. One student sent Summerhays an email after completing their first college physics class, praising him for his memorable instruction techniques. “Thanks for teaching me so well, even on the days when I didn’t want to listen. I also want to thank you for not telling me that skeewompous isn’t a real term in physics. I was the first to answer the professor’s question when he asked if anyone knew how to add two vectors.  Of course my answer included the word skeewompous and my professor just stared at me!”

Hearing from old students helps Summerhays remain optimistic even when the teaching profession feels challenging. “I have past students contact me all the time thanking me for the influence I had on them and their future. It feels really good to know I’ve helped so many achieve their dreams,” Summerhays said. 

Learning about the successes of his students also reminds Summerhays why he decided to pursue a career in education. “As I was attending BYU in electrical engineering and physics, I had a part-time job teaching at the Missionary Training Center. It was sometime during my junior year that I realized I loved to teach. I looked into it at the McKay education building and the rest is history!”

Despite his hard work, Summerhays was still surprised and delighted when his family, along with Olympus High principal Stephen Perschon and Granite School District Superintendent Bates walked into his classroom last April to present him with an Excel Award from the Granite Education Foundation. “That’s my daughter! And that’s my mom! I have no idea what’s going on,” Summerhays said. 

But for the students who benefitted from Summerhays and his dedication, the award shouldn’t seem surprising at all. The annual Excel Awards are designed to honor educators who demonstrate their commitment to their student success on a daily basis. So whether it’s coming up with silly words to help students remember an important concept, or leaving his cell phone on in case a student needs help with a particularly tricky equation, Summerhays is there to help students learn — and maybe even love — their physics homework.   

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