What she does
Becky teaches reading, writing, science, and mathematics to her fifth graders each day. The 27 students in her class visit the other fifth grade teacher for social studies, while she teaches science to the other class. In addition to daily instruction and fifth grade behavior management, she is very involved in curriculum writing and planning within her building, grade level team, and district.
Math on the job
Becky teaches fifth grade math twice each day. The first math period is ability-grouped fifth graders. This group consists of the most gifted math students. Instruction is focused on a deep and conceptual understanding of the material. She challenges students to use non-traditional methods for multiplication, division, fractions, measurement, and geometry. They journal about their own thinking, a variety of problem solving strategies, and why the traditional algorithms (like long division and “drop the magic zero” multiplication) work. Becky's goal for this group is that they leave her room with a true understanding of the “why and how” of mathematics. The second math period that she teaches is with her entire class, which brings together a very diverse group of math minds! They complete concept board questions that target fifth grade math expectations (a sort of spiral review/preview), and they continuously practice a variety of “tried and true” problem solving strategies.
If you were to ask Becky's students about how their teacher uses math, they might tell you about the bulletin boards in their classroom. They have the prime numbers spilled across the top of the whiteboard, where the typical elementary teacher would put a handwriting alphabet. The word wall includes a large red heart beside the terms Distributive Property, equilateral, and isosceles. And, the cupboards are covered with a math word wall, giving student friendly definitions and examples of all fifth grade math vocabulary and problem solving strategies.
Teachers in Michigan must hold a teaching degree from a college or university and hold a teaching certificate issued by the Michigan Department of Education. Becky earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. In addition, she holds a kindergarten - 6th grade (elementary) teaching certificate and is considered “highly qualified” in the areas of mathematics and school health education, which means she is also certified to teach these content areas in 6th - 8th grade (middle school) classrooms.
During her high school and college years, Becky took advantage of a number of job and volunteer opportunities that put her in a teaching role or gave her direct contact with kids. She taught swimming lessons, privately tutored students in math, worked for an academically talented math program, and volunteered in local elementary school classrooms. Additionally, a number of her mathematics education courses in college included field experiences such as teaching single lessons, implementing short units, tutoring a child for an extended period of time, and conducting research interviews about students' mathematical thinking.
In addition to these experiences, and probably most influential when it came to securing her current position, were her student teaching experiences during her final semesters at GVSU. During the two semesters of student teaching, college students are given the responsibility of instruction and behavior management in a local classroom. Both her half-day teacher assisting placement (2nd grade, Grandville Public Schools) and her full-day student teaching placement (4th grade, Jenison Public Schools) gave her opportunities to learn from professional teachers, show her enthusiasm for education, and her true “teacher personality.
Advice for students:
"Math majors with hopes of being an elementary teacher should focus intensely on the “why”s of elementary mathematics and make every effort to have a deep and conceptual understanding of the math content that they will be teaching. I believe it is essential for teachers to take risks and ask “why does it work that way?” questions of their students. It is equally essential for students to try to articulate their mathematical thinking in the form of journal or short-answer responses! Kids need to be taught how to talk mathematically, though, and teachers can only teach this by facilitating discussions. Leading discussions can be frightening, with 25 eyes staring at you and 25 potential explanations/answers to a question! Teachers with a conceptual understanding of the mathematics being taught will feel confident and successful in this endeavor, and their students will benefit for years to come.
"If you love math and love kids, there is no career more satisfying than math education. Knowledge of mathematics and strong problem solving skills will help those you teach find success for the rest of their lives."