ALEXANDER, N.Y. - When fifth grade teacher Colleen McNamara got the call letting her know she was a finalist for educator of the year, she was shocked, but the teachers, students, and others who nominated her weren't the least bit surprised.

"She's really, really fun, and it's really enjoyable to come here and learn because she makes everything fun. It's not boring when you are doing math and ELA and stuff," said fifth grade student Maia Saile.

Her principal says it's her innovation in the classroom and passion for teaching that leads to success in the classroom.

"I think it is the engagement that works most. As soon as the kid walks in the room, they notice something is different right away," said Alexander Elementary School principal Matt Stroud. "She will take whatever she has - it may be something big, may not be much of anything at all - and she finds a way to turn it into something that's special and unique for the kids."

Her lessons incorporate singing, dancing, and imagination. Instead of a boring lesson on fractions, the kids pretend to be business owners who have to use math to run their business cost-effectively. McNamara has turned her classroom into a restaurant for other lessons. She said it's about grabbing the kids attention, and more importantly, keeping it.

"That's really my number one goal is to engage them, make sure they want to learn. I want to keep them focused the entire lesson, that they don't even realize that the period is over," said McNamara.

McNamara has a raised stage at the front of the class and a runway down the center. It allows her and the students to be higher above the class so that all eyes are focused on them during lessons and presentations.

As part of the "Educator of the Year" honor, McNamara won a mobile computer lab for her school.