Elementary Education Major Kim Spencer receives Presidential Teaching Award
Kim Spencer, who majored in elementary education at UMF and now teaches looping grades 2 and 3 at Yarmouth Elementary School, has received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
Like UMF elementary education graduate Pamela Thompson, who also won the honor the same year, Spencer received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., for an awards ceremony, professional development programs, and talks with policy makers on how to improve math and science education.
The roots of her Presidential Award, Spencer says, lie in a community garden just outside her classroom. As applicants had to provide an exemplary lesson plan and teaching activities, she chose a lesson in basic multiplication, based on using pattern blocks to arrange vegetable plantings in the garden. She taught her students that if a triangle, for instance, equals 5 carrot plants, and they plotted 3 triangles... well you get the idea. More importantly, so did her students.
"I didn't just want them to memorize facts," Spencer says. "I wanted them to have a deeper understanding of the math, to see that something can symbolically represent something else. Having them plan the layout of the garden was a real-life plan."
She also integrated technology in her lesson planning by having the students use pattern-block designs to create predictive virtual representations of the garden on laptop computers (with each configuration yielding new equations to be solved). And, she says, the learning provided plenty of food for thought: "The cafeteria serves vegetables for lunch from the garden."
Spencer says she was especially surprised by the award for innovation in teaching math since she considers herself a generalist in the classroom.
"The truth is, I enjoy teaching literacy as much as math," she says. "I love teaching anything."