Patricia Smith believes learning shouldn’t be limited by the classroom, even in traditional paper-and-pencil subjects like math.
In her Bethel Elementary classroom, Smith said, students learn math by doing projects, or perhaps by using clay.
“We have dialogue. We have discussion. We move outside,” she said.
Smith was honored for her efforts last week when she was named Clover’s 2014-15 Teacher of the Year during the district’s opening ceremonies.
The district also honored school-level teachers of the year.
In April, Smith created an example what math learning can be. She created her own version of a traveling math exhibit, with a dozen math and engineering puzzles for her fifth-grade students.
The puzzles included a tricycle with square wood wheels, a box of plastic, interlocking gears and a window filled with a repeating pattern of hexagons.
Students answered questions and solved problems with each activity.
Smith said it was a day for students to explore math beyond the numbers and to be curious about it. She said she hopes to break down barriers that make many students fear math.
“I tell my kids that they have this potential inside themselves to grow and to learn,” she said. “And I’m here to communicate, to help them find that potential.”
“If we need to talk, if we draw, if we need to be on the floor, if we need to be outside, if we need to sculpt it out of clay,” they will, she said.
Smith has been teaching for 20 years, and previously taught in Iowa and Arizona. Her first experience with such math came with an Iowa high school teacher whose classroom was cluttered with things.
“He showed me math was more than numbers,” she said.
That experience continued when she was an undergraduate student at Iowa State University, where a calculus professor “showed me how to start asking questions to empower my learning.”
“I couldn’t just come up and say, ‘Professor, I don’t understand this,’ ” she said. “He wouldn’t accept that. He said, ‘Think about your problem, ask me a question that is part of our problem.’ ”
“He encouraged me to talk about the math, and that was the first time that had happened for me,” she said.
More recently, Smith said, she piloted a class from a Stanford University professor who “opened my eyes up to growing mathematical minds and moving beyond the textbook.”
Smith said one of her dreams is to pursue a doctorate in math education to help remove barriers to students learning math.
“Maybe with the help of others, we can help bring that barrier down,” she said.
School-level Teachers of the Year in Clover are: Stacie Harris, Bethany Elementary; Keri Haynes, Blue Eagle Academy; Ann Love, Clover High; Alex Bromell, Clover Middle; Phoebe O’Toole, Crowders Creek Elementary; Brenda Lee, Griggs Road Elementary; Tracey Thompson, Kinard Elementary School; Debbie Faulkner, Larne Elementary; and Karen Schmolze, Oakridge Middle.