Nothing is routine in his physics classroom at Hoover High School

NORTH CANTON  Physics comes in many forms in classroom J-2 at Hoover High School.

It's designing a model roller coaster to learn about gravity and force. Constructing balsa wood gliders to comprehend Bernoulli's principle. Building a toothpick bridge to understand force. Launching straw rockets to study the distance and accuracy of projectiles.

Welcome to the dynamic classroom of Darrell Woods, this year's Stark County Teacher of the Year.

"I never want things to be routine," said Woods, an educator with 32 years of classroom experience.

Woods has spent the past 16 years at Hoover High School, where he teaches conceptual physics, physics and Advanced Placement physics to juniors and seniors. He also taught physics at St. Thomas Aquinas for seven years and taught physics for seven years and math for two years at Jackson High School.

Woods has been recognized nationally throughout his career for his teaching methods. In 2010, he was one of five teachers inducted into the National Teachers' Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kan. He also was recognized as one of 20 teachers named to the All-USA Teacher Team in 2006, was selected for the national DisneyHand Teacher Award in 2004 and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2003. A three-person committee chose Woods for this year's county award from nominees under the Stark County Educational Service Center.

Five things to know about Darrell Woods:

1. He originally wanted to be a forest ranger. Growing up as a Boy Scout, the self-described "nature nut" planned for a career outdoors, not in the classroom. He had earned a bachelor's degree in biological sciences at Walsh University and was in his second year of pursuing his master's degree in comparative anatomy and physiology at the University of Akron when one of his advisers suggested he rethink his career choice and pursue teaching as a way to share his passion for the sciences. The professor noted how the attendance and average grades in the undergraduate classes where he was a teaching assistant were higher than in similar classes. Woods, who returned to Walsh to obtain his teaching certificate, says he has no regrets that he made the switch.

2. Woods began using real-world, hands-on projects in his class long before the term "project-based learning" became a trendy phrase in education circles. Since his early years at St. Thomas Aquinas, Woods has been teaching about the history, safety and physics of roller coasters by having students build a model roller coaster in class using K'Nex kits. The three-week project, called The Adrenaline Rush, requires students to design and build a roller coaster that will operate on a continuous basis once it's set in motion. Students also must work together to create a theme-related background and devise a marketing plan with social media advertising, commercials and posters. The project culminates with a roughly 40-minute presentation to a panel of selected teachers, parents, administrators, community members and peers.

3. His favorite quote: "You are responsible for what you will learn every day of your life!" From an unknown author, the quote hangs at the top of a bulletin board as a reminder of his classroom expectations. It was printed on a dot-matrix printer and taped together. Other banners hanging in Woods' classroom: "If you always do what you always did, you'll always get what you always got" and "Physics is everything."

4. His most rewarding moment as a teacher (so far) came a few years ago when a then-3-year-old girl ran up to him and gave him a big hug just before Hoover's graduation began. 

"When I asked what that was for, she exclaimed in loud words, 'Because you helped my mommy grow up!'" Woods recalled. "I think she meant 'graduate.'"

The girl's then-18-year-old mother had become pregnant at the beginning of her freshman year and needed his science course to meet Hoover's graduation requirements. But frequent absences to care for her daughter and problems with her part-time job created challenges that Woods and a school guidance counselor helped her work through. He said the student's daughter soon became part of the class memories, and she even attended her mother's roller coaster presentation.

Woods said the mother now is working toward her nursing degree at the University of Akron.

5. He's retiring at the end of the school year, but won't be gone from the teaching profession for long. "I'm not necessarily done teaching," Woods said. "But I think it's time to make a little bit of a switch." He has contacted some area colleges about possible part-time or full-time positions. He plans to teach physics, of course.

Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or kelli.weir@cantonrep.com.

On Twitter: @kweirREP