Ms. Mills, Back from Sabbatical

By Carl Tischbein

Last year, Ms. Mills, one of Hanover High School’s math teachers, was mysteriously absent for the whole year. While many teachers may have heard about her adventures, few students seem sure of the details.

As it turns out, Ms. Mills was on sabbatical last year. While she was away, she was researching and implementing improved teaching methods.

In the following edited interview, Ms. Mills explains the opportuni- ties she had and the knowledge she gained from her 2010-2011 sabbatical.

Broadside: Can you share some background information on your sabbatical last year?

Ms. Mills: I was able to take part in a state-funded, one year sabbatical that allows teachers to explore an independent project that would be beneficial to students. After the development of the Math Modeling program at HHS in 2001, I became interested in exploring different types of learning. In that class, stu- dents work more interactively and think about problems in different ways, using simulations and practical applications. I wanted to apply that knowledge in classes before the typical post-calculus classes and make that type of teaching available to other students.

Broadside: How was the program structured?

Ms. Mills: I spent the first half of the year talking to professors and gathering background information. I was able to get a sense of what happens post-high school, and what techniques are both rel- evant and helpful in college. I also contacted some local high schools. During the second half of the year, I designed and tested programs with math modeling techniques in those five different schools, one of them Hanover High School. I integrated these programs into what was already being taught, and was able to give students a different perspective on what they were learning.

Broadside: So the state program allowed you to research whatever you wanted?

Ms. Mills: Pretty much! I had to write a long proposal and present it to lots of people. I had to have an idea of what I wanted to do ahead of time: I had to outline my goals and figure out what I wanted to do, even though I didn’t have all the specifics worked out yet.

Broadside: So your inspiration for this project came from our own Math Modeling class?

Ms. Mills: Definitely. Most schools are not able to provide more ad- vanced or abstract teaching meth- ods. It’s also very hard for teachers to get new programs started within schools. So the idea behind this was to integrate knowledge teach

ers already had and apply it to a different style of teaching. Visu- ally seeing things that are proven mathematically not only helps rein- force a topic, but also helps people who think analytically to see things slightly differently.

Broadside: How will you present your findings and ideas?

Ms. Mills: Right now I’m editing all the explorations and activities, but ideally all the information will be posted on a website so teachers outside of this area can use some of the ideas and possibly develop their own ways of creatively teaching their classes. I can also get the word out by presenting at various teacher conferences around the country. The good thing about lots of these activities is that they don’t require much equipment and they’re relatively inexpensive, so they’re more accessible to school districts with less money.

Broadside: How is it to be back?

Ms. Mills: I had a great year, but I’m thrilled to be back. It felt a little weird to be out of my class- room the whole year. Coming back, though, I feel like a new teacher in a lot of ways. The teaching styles I use now are very different, and I have learned so much.

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