ISU alumnus named Disney Teacher for meeting standards while teaching outside the book

May 19 2006

Doug Dillion, technology teacher at Honey Creek Middle School, embraces his being named as a 2006 Disney Teacher. The first question he asked when he won the award, was if he could use the Disney characters in his classroom. After hearing the OK, Dillion asked the art teacher to paint a likeness of Goofy just outside his classroom door, since "Goofy" is Mr. Dillion's nickname. Pictured with Dillion is Ken Amos (right), also a technology education teacher at Honey Creek and Indiana State University alumnus, who has been Dillion?s colleague for the past 13 years.

TERRE HAUTE - If you hear, "Now take out your textbook and turn to page 87," you're not in Doug Dillion's classroom.

Dillion, a Honey Creek Middle School technology teacher and Indiana State University alumnus, was named a 2006 Disney Teacher because he does things differently.

"When I was in school, I couldn't stand the classes where the teacher would tell us to open our books and turn to a page and read out loud," said Dillion, who teaches grades six through eight. "In 14 years of teaching, I've never taken out a textbook and asked my kids to read a chapter. I prepare quality activities and textbooks are simply a resource. Everything I plan out is activity-driven."

To teach about transportation, Dillion morphs into a character he calls Dr. Smith, president of United Space Authority. Student groups are given the task of researching and developing a space launch vehicle to carry eggonauts into the earth's atmosphere.

"I give each 'company' a budget of $900,000 to develop their rocket and a written presentation," Dillion explained.

Throughout the 10-day activity, students generate a budget projection and keep a balance sheet, purchase materials from the industrial park, design and build a rocket, and create a pre-launch analysis.

"Students can even get ecological disaster fines for noise pollution, spilling paint or other potentially environmentally unfriendly events," he said. "At the end of the activity, parents get to come in, meet Dr. Smith and see the companies' rockets test launched."

Dillion's style of teaching "outside the book" set him apart from the more than 75,000 teachers who were nominated for the honor. The Disney press release commended the winners on their "creativity, innovative teaching methods and ability to inspire students while actively engaging them in learning."

As one of 44 in the nation to receive this year's Disney Teacher Award, Dillion will receive $10,000 and a trip to Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., from July 29 to August 3, for an awards gala, professional development and fun in the theme park. In addition, each honoree's school will receive $5,000. Dillion is the first technology education teacher ever to win this award.

He isn't the first teacher in Vigo County to be so honored, however. In 1998, another ISU alumnus, Marylin Leinenbach - a former Chauncey Rose Middle School teacher and now an assistant professor of elementary, early and special education at ISU - won the award.

As providence would have it, when Leinenbach won, she invited Dillion to a celebratory gathering at her house, to watch her pre-recorded acceptance of the award on TV.

"I remember sitting there watching the awards show with Marylin and her turning to me and saying, 'You've got some unique ideas. If you work real hard, someday, that may be you up on that stage.' I didn't believe that could ever happen, but I just kept working hard and enjoying my job," he said, "and one day, the paperwork [for the award] showed up in the mail."

A Different Approach to Standards-Based Education

When the legislature passed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002, and required standards-based education and state-defined "adequate yearly progress" to avoid corrective action and restructuring, Dillion faced this challenge in his trademark, unusual way.

"I asked myself, 'how can I make this fun?'" he said. "So many people grumbled instead of embracing and aggressively trying to figure out how to integrate these new standards into the classroom. I went to the National Association of Homebuilders and told them I needed help developing some standards-based programs for career and technology education."

The Homebuilders provided seed money to Dillion and he worked with them to develop what has become the Tech Town USA curriculum, which is used not only by Dillion, but also 20 other Indiana middle and high schools. This year, more than 4,000 Indiana students have participated in the program, and even more school corporations are interested in implementing it at their schools.

Dillion travels throughout the state, at the request of interested school corporations, to share the Tech Town USA concept. Most recently, he was in Seymour, where local schools are working with the Jackson-Jennings Builders Association to implement the program in the fall.

"Tech Town USA is a partnership between local building associations and school corporations," Dillion said. "The building association purchases the necessary supplies for the program, and the school implements it. It takes both industry and education, working together, for the program to be successful. This is a great model for the kids to witness and be a part of."

Tech Town USA reinforces all 17 standards for technology, five science contexts, six mathematics contexts and seven language arts contexts, Dillion says.

"With Tech Town USA, students design a house, build a scale model from their floor plan and then develop a realty specification sheet. I teach how English, science, math and social studies apply to the field of construction," he said. "We do creative, fun activities which reinforce the standards and show how the standards apply to the real world."

While there is pressure to teach the standards, there's no rule that says how you have to do that, Dillion says.

"We just forget about the testing and focus on the activities, so the kids don't even realize we're meeting a standard," he said. "They see how the activity has an application for later in life."

The standards-based Tech Town USA lesson plans will be available on the Indiana Department of Education Web site as a free download in the near future, he says, as part of the Technology Education Curriculum Crosswalks Activities, or TECCA.

Dillion's belief that "school should be fun and very energetic" guided his research while working on his master's in education at ISU, which he earned in 2002.

"I decided to do my master's research on the best teaching approaches for middle school students," he said. "That allowed me to identify the six approaches that are universally understood as being the best."

And by the way, he adds, lecture is not one of them.


Photo: A publication-quality, high-resolution photo is available at: Doug_Dillion

Contact: Doug Dillion, technology education teacher, Honey Creek Middle School, (812) 462-4372 or

Writer: Katie Spanuello, media relations assistant director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3790 or

Indiana State University news:

Bookmark and Share

Story Highlights

Doug Dillion, Indiana State University alumnus and Honey Creek Middle School technology teacher, was named a 2006 Disney Teacher because he does things differently. Dillion's trademark curriculum is Tech Town USA.

Bookmark and Share