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The City Journals

Teacher of the Year solves the problem of poor math attitudes

Nov 05, 2020 01:17PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Seventh grade students at Ascent Academy are designing their dream apartment, but not for an interior design class. It is a math assignment. Math teacher Bethany Crowley prefers to teach math with group work, projects, math games and multimedia instead of notes and worksheets.

“I'm very much into ‘let's actually use this’ and ‘this is where this kind of math is going to lead to in the future,’” Crowley said. “It's not about being a human calculator; it's about understanding how to develop the equations, understanding how to solve the problem and how to approach it, rather than cranking out the multiplication and division.”

As students design and furnish their dream apartment, they learn concepts of scale factor, ratios, proportion relationships and unit rate.

Crowley has been inspired by education innovators such as Dan Meyer to create math problems that require students to use critical thinking to solve real world problems. She uses multimedia and discussions to let students figure out the question as well as how to figure out the answer.

“It gets the kids really engaged, and it's tangible; it's obvious how we use this in real life and how math can predict the world,” Crowley said.

Students respond well to her teaching style.

“If you walk into her math class, you will see a smile and feel nothing but positive vibes,” SPED teacher Eric Slemboski said. “She takes math, which can be an unpleasant subject for many students, and makes it exciting. She has so much passion and energy when she teaches; she makes math fun and exciting for her students.”

Sara Tucker, Crowley’s administrator last year, was impressed with her engaging and hands-on approach to help students “find the joy in math.”

“She shares her love of math in a contagious way, making it so anyone who comes in will find a bit of the joy she has for math, too,” Tucker said. “With so much anxiety shared about math, she quells the fears and builds the confidence in the learners she is able to work with. She is a math rockstar!”

Crowley’s style of math instruction, inspired in part by Jo Boaler’s concept of math mindsets, also instills in her students a growth mindset.

“I love teaching them how to do hard things like math,” Crowley said. “Problem-solving skills are going to be hardwired into their brain, and that will help them no matter what career they choose.”

Crowley didn’t plan to be a math teacher; she studied chemical engineering. However, when she gave a presentation on math education for one of her college classes, she became excited about the new direction of math instruction and decided to teach instead.

Crowley believes her engineering background gives her an edge as a math teacher.

“I love math,” she said. “I just love the problem-solving aspect, which is what got me into engineering in the first place. My engineering degree gave me such a perspective of how the governing math equations describe everything in the world around us. It was just clear to me how powerful math is, and I just want to teach my kids that.”

Crowley’s passion for mathematics and unique style has caught the attention of students, colleagues, administrators and members of the Utah State Board of Education, who selected Crowley as one of the top six finalists for this year’s Teacher of the Year award.

“I nominated Bethany because she is a shining example of a dedicated teacher,” Tucker said. “She is innovative and works to ensure that there is depth and complexity with her lessons and activities. Bethany creates an environment of trust and caring that is imperative when it comes to math and with junior high students.”

“Mrs. Crowley is the definition of a Teacher of the Year,” said Crystal Thomas, current vice principal at Ascent Academy. “She is energetic, creative and finds ways to make the core curriculum come to life. She does not accept the attitude that people don't have a ‘math brain.’ She meets people where they are and gives them the courage to elevate themselves. All students deserve to have a teacher like Mrs. Crowley. She makes the impossible [like math], possible. Students leave her class with more confidence and a desire to be better people.”

Thomas’s own daughter was in Crowley’s class, and when she struggled, she got some extra tutoring after school.

“After the tutoring session, I asked my daughter how it went,” said Thomas. “She looked at me, beaming with pride, and said, ‘Mrs. Crowley said I was smart.’ This was the first time any teacher had taken the time to tell her that, and it changed her. Math became something that she could do.”

Stacey MacLeod-Warner, behavior specialist at Ascent Academy, said Crowley truly respects her students and is dedicated to helping them be successful.

Crowley gives the same support to colleagues.

“She is the ‘go-to’ teacher when it comes to tech questions, and she never turns away anybody who needs help,” Slemboski said. “She is also the first one to volunteer when other teachers need help. She is a great colleague and very easy to work with.”

Thomas expects great things from Crowley.

“When there's a problem, she doesn't sit around and admire it; she analyzes and comes up with a solution,” Thomas said. “She is a leader of innovation and can often be found researching the latest technology, program or system to improve our school.”

Crowley, who has been teaching for only five years, was thrilled to be named Teacher of the Year so early in her career.

“This nomination validates what I'm already doing, and it motivates me to be better and to keep doing what I'm doing,” Crowley said.

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