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Paul Phillips has spent the majority of his life at Capital High School. The Helena native is a 1983 CHS graduate and has taught at the school for the past 18 years.

He says the biggest difference between when he attended and today is the resources available to students to find facts.

"It's not as important to teach them to memorize facts," Phillips said. "They can always go back and get the facts. They have more knowledge on their cell phone than I ever had. They can have all the data and specifics they want."

This summer Phillips was named an outstanding high school chemistry teacher by the American Chemical Society.

Phillips received the award during the American Chemical Society Northwest Regional meeting earlier this summer in Seattle. During his acceptance speech he gave credit to his family, teachers and co-workers who he says all helped shape the teacher he became.

"I'm here because of the people who have taught me and worked with me," Phillips said. "This is not mine, but a group effort."

His award came with a $500 stipend, which he plans to use to purchase a little technology for the classroom.

Phillips, former chemistry department chair at CHS, is working with the University of Montana writing a first-year inquiry chemistry curriculum.

"The basic premise is teaching kids by having them do science," he said.

Phillips believes the traditional way of teaching is like telling students the punch line before the joke.

"(Inquiry-based instruction) is the way scientists have always done science," he said.

Phillips believes this new style of inquiry-based instruction provides the opportunity for students to observe, predict, hypothesize and think for themselves.

His students respond to this style and teachers and administrators are inspired by it.

CHS senior Daniel Moran took chemistry last year with Phillips and describes the classroom atmosphere as laid back.

"He lets kids do their own thing with structure," Moran said. "You feel comfortable in his class because he knows what he is talking about and makes sure kids understand what's going on."

There were times last year when Moran felt challenged by the subject matter.

"But it could be fixed up by asking him a few questions," he said. "(Phillips) is good at putting complex situations into terms individuals can understand. He really tries to get kids to understand the basis and foundation of what we are learning rather than just vocabulary terms or memorizing equations."

As a little boy, Phillips wanted to become an astronaut or a scientist, but after taking one education class at Montana State University and being inspired a father who was a -teacher as a role model, he realized his calling was in the classroom, and he's never looked back.

"This is not a job to me," Phillips said. "I have so much fun."

Phillips, who has no biological children of his own says, he considers the 150 young people he sees during six periods a day his kids.

"Paul's been in our building a long time," Walt Chancy, CHS assistant principal said. "He is an outstanding teacher, and his leadership is evident today with taking the lead of inquiry-based instruction. He is well respected among students and his peers not only in Helena, but around the state."

Phillips said teaching with inquiry-based style forced him to become a better at his chosen profession.

"Teaching this way has forced me to understand it better, so it's made me a better teacher," he said.

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or alana.listoe

@helenair.com

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