Educator honored for work teaching math

by HEIDI DESCH
Editor | January 6, 2021 1:00 AM

Teacher Shianne Schmidt says as a student she struggled with math, but now she’s being honored for her work teaching the subject to her own students at Olney-Bissell School.

She is one of five Montana educators that have been selected as the 2020 state finalists for the national Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, which is the nation’s highest honor for math and science teachers in grades kindergarten through 12th. A committee of teachers selected the five finalists out of a pool of 23 applicants.

“Math has kind of become my specialty the last five years,” she said. “I started working with the testing consortium to write resources for them and write lessons that align with testing. As soon as I started doing that I became more focused on training because I wanted to help students who struggle with it because I actually struggled as a math learner.”

“I wanted to make sure that all kids could see that they could be successful in math,” she added.

Schmidt teaches fourth grade at Olney-Bissell and has taught at the school for the last four years. She’s been a teacher for nine years in Montana.

She grew up in Power and graduated from Montana State University. She says as an avid reader, she would have never thought that teaching math would become her strength.

In the classroom, Schmidt says she focuses on hands-on learning with games and projects, and uses a workshop model that allows her to meet one-on-one with students.

“That allows me to teach every kid that there is a solution that works for them,” she said. “That there is a strategy that makes sense for them — they might not be doing it the same way as the other students, but if their way gets them the answer and makes sense to them then that’s what’s important.”

One of the projects Schmidt has implemented for learning in her classroom and is a favorite amongst students, is having students create their own food cart. Students had to use the area and perimeter to build a food cart, along with menu pricing and money, in terms of the math portion of the lesson. They also got to hear from the owner of a food cart.

“It was really cool for them to see the business side of it and then they had to create a food cart themselves,” she said. “That hit a lot of our learning standards.”

In order to be selected as a state finalist for the award, the educators must complete a rigorous application process that includes providing video footage of themselves teaching, along with written documentation of the impacts of their teaching methodology on student achievement.

Schmidt says the process gave her the opportunity to reflect on her teaching style and fine tune her strengths.

“It was fun also to see what really clicks with the students,” she said. “We do shake a dice and I play Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off.” They get to shake dice in fun shakers until the song stops, and then they get together with a partner and add up their numbers together or subtract their numbers or do fractions with them.”

Schmidt says one of her favorite aspects of being a teacher is watching a student break through to learn something after struggling with it.

“It’s really great to work with the individual brains and individual ideas, and to create an environment out of those to create a family that works together but can also include their own individual way of thinking,” she said.

The Montana state finalist’s applications are submitted to the PAEMST where a national panel of distinguished scientists and mathematicians will review submissions to determine who will qualify for the national award. Nationally, the awards program is administered by the National Science Foundation on behalf of the White House. In Montana, the state recognition program is sponsored and administered by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation in association with the Montana Association of Presidential Awardees.

For more information about the PAEMST program, please visit: www.paemst.org