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Honors for Math and Science Teachers Who Make Students Think

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 - 10:56 AM

In a lesson on "How does scale factor affect surface area and volume?", the teacher, Kate Belin, asked students to create models of animals using cardboard and paper.

Kate BelinSarah Shatz Kate Belin, a math teacher at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, one of seven Sloan Award winners.

Students used rectangular prisms, cylinders and other shapes to build any warm-blooded mammal of their choosing, and helped to create what Ms. Belin calls "a mini Bronx Zoo" in her classroom.

The students then measured the animals, changed the scale, asked their own questions and answered them.

"If it's not coming from your own experience, then it just becomes rote," Ms. Belin said.

That kind of creative teaching and passion for her subject earned Ms. Belin a Sloan Award for Teaching Excellence in Science and Mathematics. She is one of seven New York City math and science teachers who will receive the awards on Wednesday evening, in recognition of their ability as exceptionally dedicated and creative high school educators.

Eliza KuberskaSarah Shatz Eliza Kuberska, a math teacher at Hunter College High School, is a Sloan Award winner.

Besides Ms. Belin, who teaches at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, the other six winners are Marissa Bellino of the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan; Jim Cocoros of Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan; Margaret DeSimone of Midwood High School in Brooklyn; Maria Cheryl Diangco of Sheepshead Bay High School in Brooklyn; Eliza Kuberska of Hunter College High School in Manhattan; and Alia Jackson of Curtis High School on Staten Island.

"I would say what's special about all of these teachers is that they are both right-brained and left-brained people," said Mary McCormick, president of the Fund for the City of New York, which runs the awards program jointly with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

"They are about rigor, they are about excellence, they're about the content," Ms. McCormick said. "But they also have the ability to connect emotionally with their students."

The awards program draws about 100 nominees a year. The Fund for the City of New York then selects about a dozen candidates and begins a lengthy process of building a profile for each of the selected nominees, including interviews with 20 to 30 people for each. The process takes about eight months.

"I think they talked to everybody except my grandmother," said Ms. Belin, who teaches geometry and functions to 11th- and 12th-grade students at Fannie Lou.

Ms. Belin, 29, is in her seventh year of teaching at the school, a job she started fresh out of graduate school. She tries to make math class an experiential learning process, forcing students to question and evaluate problems, she said.

Likewise, Eliza Kuberska, a math teacher at Hunter College High School, encourages students to have fun with math so that they are motivated by the subject, rather than the grade.

"My goal is to make them think," said Ms. Kuberska, who teaches algebra II, AP statistics, and problem solving. She is 35 and now in her 10th year of teaching.

"From time to time, I have this pleasure of having 40 minutes for them to think about one idea," Ms. Kuberska said. "The magic happens when I put the problem on the board and I say, 'How do we begin?' "

This year's awards recipients will receive $5,000 each, plus $2,500 for their school's math or science department. The schools chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, will be there to help hand out the awards.

Ms. Kuberska said she would gladly turn over half of her own award money to Hunter's math team. "I'll treat them to excellent ice cream," she said.

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