CAROLYN Hayden, who has been teaching at Lambton High School for 25 years, has been so successful in keeping young people interested in science she has been judged Australia's top teacher in recent national excellence awards.
Two of her former students, now at university, nominated Mrs Hayden for the prize announced this week by Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard.
Mrs Hayden's Waterwatch project at the school has been an important catalyst.
"Waterwatch students just blossomed from there," she said.
Students studied a creek running through a park near the school.
Student Declan Klausen said Mrs Hayden's environmental science teaching, often done in her own time, had spurred him to organise recycling projects at the school and to consider a career in environmental engineering and possible politics.
Students praised Mrs Hayden for putting them in contact with senior scientists and organising work experience with influential institutions in the educational and corporate sectors.
She said her students had achieved national recognition for their work.
The national award "validated all the time I have put into students over the last 31 years", she said.