July 20, 2010 - Megan Gillespie used to get in trouble for cutting up in class, fidgeting, talking out of turn, you name it. But the girl who "hated" school whenever the three R's were taught with too many Zzzzzz's grew up to be an educator. Last week at NSA's annual Summer Institute for Mathematics Teaching, she said she chose the profession because she was determined to make learning enjoyable - especially in math.
"I've always wanted to find a way to make it more fun, and to help kids who don't learn as easily as other kids," she recalled in an interview. Gillespie is a nine-year veteran who will be the "math content coach" this fall for the faculty at a Montgomery County, Md., elementary school. She was one of 40 teachers selected to participate in the institute, which attracted a record of 260 applicants.
Master teacher Carolyn Bereska discusses teaching strategies with educators at NSA's 2010 summer math institute.
(Photo credit: National Security Agency)
The effort falls under NSA's Mathematics Education Partnership Program to help improve math teaching and learning. Since 1992, more than 2,000 elementary and secondary school teachers, most of them from Maryland or neighboring states, have received training through five-day institutes that are typically conducted in multiple locations. The project is funded with grants from NSA to school districts.
The agency selects participants based on their merit, enthusiasm, and references. One of the country's top employers of mathematicians, NSA also provides guest speakers and administrative support. School districts that receive the grants - about $50,000 each - choose seasoned educators to do the actual training in how to effectively convey various math concepts. Participating teachers also receive cash stipends and teaching material. Plus, they may earn professional-development credit from their states.
In their week of training, teachers are required to craft new lesson plans - which they later use in their own classrooms, fine-tune, and then further analyze in a follow-up group meeting that NSA organizes.
This year's institute was held at Cromwell Valley Elementary Regional Magnet School of Technology in Baltimore County. Patricia C. Baltzley, director of the Office of Mathematics PreK-12 for that county's public schools, has been involved with the project since 1995. She has overseen the district's grant applications and the logistics of serving as a host site.
In the field, teacher-training projects that are initiated by outside groups are sometimes criticized for being disconnected from the realities of the classroom. But NSA's math institutes are beneficial, she said.
The "master instructors know what is needed in the classroom in order to develop students' mathematical understanding - because they themselves are a part of the teacher trenches every day," Baltzley said. Additionally, "teacher participants are immersed in a content strand, and gain specific and deep understanding of that particular mathematics strand."
The teachers' passion for the subject is often obvious.
In one classroom last week, a teacher seemed ready to bounce out of her seat as she spun a large paper clip and moved a red plastic chip along a path on a "Remainder Race" worksheet. "This makes me really want a remainder!" she exclaimed, referring to a division game introduced by group instructor Kathy Routh. In the same class, two other teachers high-fived as they experienced the fun - and critical-thinking skills - inherent in one of Routh's activities about fractions.
Helping people to realize the joy and power of mathematics is a key goal, said Carolyn Bereska, a 39-year veteran and the instructor for a different session. "It's a great community-outreach project…and a great resource," she said of the institute.
Participant Noel Lopez, a third-grade teacher in Baltimore City, said he appreciated the games and techniques that Bereska showcased. "I find that my kids may sometimes be lagging in language," he said during a break, "but they really feel good about themselves when they can solve math problems. And that goes so far."
For more information about the NSA's Mathematics Education Partnership Program, including free lesson plans from the Summer Institute for Mathematics Teaching, go to www.nsa.gov/resources/students-educators/k12-partnership/.