February 13, 2017
Every month in our UCCI newsletter, we feature one of the extraordinary educators we have worked with at the UCCI Institutes and in the UCCI Teacher Exchange. We started this feature so that we could have a way of publicly showcasing how creative, innovative, and smart California teachers are. We archive every issue of the Teacher Spotlight here, on the UCCI website, at our Teacher Spotlight page.
This month the spotlight is on Jeramie Oliveira, Math Instructor/Math Department Chair at Simi Valley High School. Jeramie is also listed in our UCCI Course Teacher Directory.
In your own words: What do you do, and why?
For the last 16 years, I have been teaching High School Math Intervention in some form. I have done double blocks of math, I have done CAHSEE Prep, and I have taught low class size At-Risk. I have also piloted new classes.
I am always looking for new ways to get students to get over their fear of math and be successful. Each year, I look for new ideas, new lessons, and new approaches. I want kids to learn from mistakes, to persevere in face of the obstacles, and to understand that if you work for it, math can be easy. I also have entirely too much fun teaching. From bad math jokes to my spin on how to do math. I love teaching students about how to “own” math concepts, rewrite math definitions to understand them, and to not worry about mistakes.
What was your background prior to your current role, and how did you decide to become a teacher?
Before I became a teacher, I was a student. At El Segundo High School, my Geometry teacher, Mrs. Dempsey, once told me I’d make a good teacher. She encouraged me to try to tutor struggling students and I had a lot of fun doing that. In college, I stopped tutoring for about one year. I missed it terribly. Once I started tutoring again, I realized teaching was my calling.
Had you taught integrated curriculum before teaching the UCCI Course Geometry + Computer Visualization/Simulation? If not, what led to you to teach this course?
SVUSD’s former Coordinator of Curriculum and Assessment, Pam Castleman, found this class. She approached my colleague, Dan Shuster from Royal High School (another SVUSD High School) to see if this would be good for our students. One of our counselors, Denise Johnson, and Assistant Principal, Brian Cox, heard about their discussion and approached me because I help a lot around Simi Valley High School with tech. Dan and I have also worked together on creating dynamic tests in Examview, so it was a natural fit. We both were very excited about this class and Algebra 2 for the 21st Century.
However, when I hear “integrated curriculum”, I hear Inigo Montoya, from “The Princess Bride” saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means, what you think it means.”
I have taught classes that were called “integrated” that just rearranged concepts from different levels of math to different years. These were not “integrated” in my opinion. There were no “hands-on” applications! Geometry + Computer Visualization/Simulation is so much different. The programming projects I have created help students apply their skills and reinforce knowledge at the same time. Now that’s integrated!
In the UCCI Teacher Survey, we asked you to please share two areas of success you have witnessed while teaching this UCCI course (e.g. student engagement; student skill attainment). We loved your answer! “I have students far more engaged in this geometry class than any other I have taught in 17 years. They talk math, not socialize. Their average is higher than my other classes as well. Students choose to take this class. That says a lot about the fact that they want to do the work. Students enjoy the class as well. That is the best success. Students LIKE MATH!!!” Please explain in more detail why you think your students are more engaged and successful in this class as opposed to other math courses.
I believe that part of the success in this class is that it is a different way of looking at math. The students in this class are also interested in computer programming or at least computer use. There are a lot of logic and problem solving skills we develop through the use of technology. This class harnesses those skills.
The class itself also has immediate “hands-on” opportunities. We give students a purpose for doing math. Moreover, I think students see that the methods for solving most math problems are really formulaic and algorithmic. By using this approach, we help them to better understand how to apply these strategies for all problems they encounter.
This class also forced me to rethink my classroom. This is a class where student collaboration is essential. I have my students sitting in 6 person groups and have done projects with them that are solo, two person, three person and all 6 person groups.
How did you prepare for teaching the Geometry + Computer Visualization/Simulation course?
Dan Shuster and I met in May 2016. We discussed the projects for this class. He was the one that introduced me to Pencil Code (pencilcode.net) which is the main website I am using for this course. Since my class is run entirely in chromebooks, it was important to find a web based coding program.
From that point, we focused on trying to create projects that were aligned with the curriculum we are teaching here. I looked for a way to develop the programing part of the class by adding new programming concepts and also to build off the project before it.
My first project was a line segment and we had the program calculate midpoint and distance. Then we programmed parallel and perpendicular lines given a line in y=mx+b form and (x1, y1) not on the line. We identified quadrilaterals from just the vertex points. Now were are using arrays to perform dilations.
What are your top three resources (online or otherwise) that you have found most useful in teaching this course?
There are a lot of resources for pencil code.
Another great resource is the students in this class. Many of the students are “Digital Natives” and have more current programming experience. I have learned a lot from grading the projects they had submitted.