Noyce Alumni Profile
Undergraduate major or graduate field of study: M.A., Secondary Mathematics Education (with Middle School and High School Certification; B.A., Mathematics
Category of scholarship/fellowship:
Name of Noyce institution:
University of Kentucky
Current teaching assignment (school and district):
STEAM Academy, Fayette County Public Schools, Lexington, KY, Geometry, Pre-Calculus, Calculus, College Prep Math
What made you decide to become a teacher?
I started my first year of teaching at a traditional high school in Western Kentucky. Assignments and assessments were shared among colleagues and focused on acing the End-of-Course accountability tests. This caused undue stress on the teachers, which trickled down to the students. There was limited flexibility on HOW to teach. Common Core State Standards defined WHAT to teach but left the HOW up to the teacher. After my first year, I moved to Lexington to work at STEAM Academy, only three years in operation and serving a high-need population (38% free and reduced lunches). When I interviewed, I explained that while I understood the focus on state accountability testing, I preferred to center my teaching on the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice [http://www.corestandards.org/Math/Practice/]. STEAM hired me and gave me the opportunity to create a curriculum that met state guidelines but included teaching strategies that I supported and reflected my training during the Noyce program.
Describe your current teaching assignment.
The STEAM Academy focuses on project-based learning and accelerated course work. Teachers are encouraged to try non-traditional means of instruction and routinely experience failure. These meaningful projects allow students to thoroughly explore mathematics instead of just repeating information on an exam. The projects are tailored to the Common Core requirements but also include personal components to allow our diverse population to make the projects relevant to them. One example that I use is the Final Works Module—a partner-optional project where one or two students take what they have learned throughout the entire semester and create their own project based on their interests. Successful efforts include a STEAM Academy NBA Basketball Court, a 3D model of the County Fairgrounds for virtual tours, a Cryptography Project to decipher code words, and a build-your-own Spirograph. I tell my students that if their project is good enough, I will teach it in a future math class. A current effort by my calculus students is maximizing the velocity of CO2 powered cars. Students draft designs for their cars, then transfer the design to blank balsa wood and sand it into shape. They assemble their cars with axles, wheels and a CO2 cartridge and record a video of their launch. From there, they use the video and pre-measured marks on the ground to create a table of data points. They use a regression equation to find the best polynomial fit for the distance/time graph, take the derivative (twice), and find the inflection point to ultimately find the maximum speed.
How did the Noyce program prepare you for this assignment?
The resources provided by the University of Kentucky (UK) Noyce program were the inspiration for the CO2 car project discussed above and countless more. Through its summer summits, UK Noyce prepared me to venture outside of the textbook and tackle rigorous projects and problems. Our annual summer summits include nationally recognized STEM professors from the university who introduce us to these unique projects and provide the resources to incorporate them into our classes. By utilizing these projects, I have helped my students to become more engaged with the curriculum. Their personal investment stems from the interesting material and ultimately leads to fewer classroom management issues. I find that most of the time the students are engaged because they want to be. I know I’ve done my job when I see my students holding each other accountable for their work on projects. This creates a synergetic effect that allows me to highlight the progress of these underrepresented groups in calculus class to my administrators who deeply care about these sorts of “data points” instead of test scores.
Did the Noyce program at your university prepare you to use teaching strategies that can help all students learn in all settings?
The emphasis on project-based learning in the UK Noyce summer summits has helped me develop activities/projects designed to engage all of the students in my classroom as discussed above. Also, I am not afraid to fail in front of my students. They have seen me fail without shame because there is ALWAYS something to learn from failure. One example: My Pre-Calculus class was studying bearings so I decided to create a maze in the gym and ask students to navigate it only using a compass. We tried to carryout the project for 15 minutes, I realized that I had underprepared so we returned to the classroom. The students could tell that I was crushed, yet they reminded me that we all make mistakes. One group took this as an opportunity to recreate the failed project for their Final Works Module. I tried again when I took my Geometry class on a walking field trip to a local park for our Carbon Dioxide Sequestration Module. The driving question was to determine the amount of CO2 absorbed by a tree over the course of its life. I prepared by completing the project myself before presenting it, brought enough equipment and staff, and prepped the students thoroughly before leaving. The lesson was a success! Students, in groups, measured the circumference of tree trunks and the lengths of their shadows, and collected a leaf sample from each tree. After some failures and many successes trying to implement newly learned materials, students return each semester to thank me for properly preparing them.
How do you use what you’ve learned (content and pedagogy)?
Too many times, I have found that leaders of professional development centered on how to use project-based learning (PBL) will present the information in a traditional stand-and-deliver method. This is a poor example of modeling and often leaves me bored about a topic that I love. The UK professors at the Noyce summer summit model the instruction in a way that aligns with research on pedagogy. They carefully develop the materials and lesson and present a meaningful project that engages the teachers and, when we reteach it, does the same for our students. When my professors model the proper way to teach using PBL, I am inspired to learn. I don’t feel the need to check my phone or daydream. Most days I consider myself a kid and still get motivated to experience new things when faced with challenges. I know my students feel the same way. When I lecture, they tune out and lose focus, however, when we are engaged in a challenging project, they are laser focused. They bombard me when questions because they are eager to learn about the project they are so invested in!
I remember how I answered a question posed in a class at UK when I was a pre-service teacher. The question was: “What does the ideal school day look like to you?” I answered: “Quiet class with all eyes on me.” In hindsight, that was incredibly egotistical to consider myself the gatekeeper of all information. After years of growth, I have realized that the ideal class has students asking dozens of questions and talking about math to their peers.
In addition to teaching, are you exploring new areas in content, teaching strategies, leadership, etc. If so, what areas and did the Noyce experience play a role?
In addition to a continued focus on teaching, my 2019 New Year’s goal was to read one book a month. This month I am reading the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadershipby John Maxwell. I never enjoyed reading or writing, told myself that I wasn’t good at either, and never challenged myself. Since becoming the Math Content Leader at STEAM, I want to learn as much as possible about being a strong leader. Now, I have a student teacher who is learning the pedagogy of PBL and its impact on the students. As I write this, my students are actively engaged in a pre-Calculus review to prepare for their first project: Egg Drop. My student teacher used this common STEM project to teach position, velocity, and acceleration functions in an uncommon way.
Describe any highlights/special achievements during these beginning years of teaching?
These first years of teaching have been exciting. In 2015, I was awarded the STEM Teacher of Promise from UK and started my first teaching position. I transferred to STEAM Academy in 2016 and began my journey into project-based learning. In 2017, I was hired as a consultant for a weeklong professional development workshop to present Project-Based Learning in the Math Classroom for Doss High School in Louisville. I also presented at the Innovation for Learning Conference for Fayette County Public Schools. In 2018, I was promoted to Math Content Leader at STEAM. With Dr. Mohr-Schroeder and some Noyce Fellows, I presented on our Middle School Remediation Class at the AAAS Noyce Summit in Washington DC. And, I started 2019 by successfully preparing my student teacher to teach all of the classes using PBL.
Some modules I have taught (or learned from the UK Noyce program):
For teachers who want to use PBL to teach math, I would like to share some of the modules that I have taught or learned in the UK Noyce summer summits:
Algebra 2: Use a stoplight and stop sign wait times to determine which is appropriate at a four-way stop.
All students understand the need for stop signs and lights. What they may not know is what determines which is needed at a given four-way stop. They collect wait time data and utilize the probability topic—expected value—to determine which is more efficient.
Geometry: Create a 3D Barn star using 10 congruent triangles and assembling them to make a US flag.
Some of the students from rural backgrounds have a Barn Star on their house or shed. We use the Law of Cosines and Right Angle Trig to determine the side lengths for one of the ten triangles. Then we construct the triangles using Geometry tools and assemble the Barn Star.
Pre-Calculus: Use Law of Cooling/Logarithms to estimate the time of death of victims in a Murder Mystery. We work with students in a creative writing class to develop a fascinating murder mystery that involves the class. I designate one student as the murderer and then the class must determine who it is by using mathematics!
Calculus: Use related rates and regression equations to find how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.This project is a class favorite.