April 20, 2015
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 Ellen Byron, Math Coordinator of Education Services for Placer County Office of Education.
We recently spoke with Ellen about her background in Engineering and what fueled her passion in becoming a teacher...
How long have you worked in education, and how did you decide to pursue this field?
I have been in education for a total of 17 years. From an early age, I remember my father taking me to the Mattel factory he managed. I was completely fascinated with how things were being made, and decided to become an engineer so I could do what my dad did for a living. While attending Cal Poly's engineering program, I often found myself tutoring many of my peers in Calculus, and somehow seemed to know how to explain math to others in a way that helped them better understand the concepts. After graduating from college, I had a very rewarding career in engineering working for companies like Intel and Burroughs.
But once I started my family, I realized I wanted to stay at home with them and make them my priority. I started going to school with them and into their classes, and for some reason, teachers wanted me to help with the math centers. Volunteering turned into subbing, and then one day a friend of mine mentioned that they needed a math teacher at their charter school. That was in 1998, when my youngest began attending school full day. I got an emergency credential and became the middle and high school math teacher for American Canyon Charter School two days a week. After 6 years of teaching part-time, another friend shared that Sacramento High School was looking for a math teacher that could teach an introduction to Engineering class. That year I went back to school to get my credential. I taught full time, and wrote an Intro to Engineering course showing students how to apply the math they were learning to engineering. I loved working there and decided I needed to be closer to home for my family. I worked one year on temporary assignment at my children's middle school and then got my job at Lincoln High School where I stayed for seven years teaching Algebra, Algebra 2 and Precalculus.
You're the Placer County math coordinator. How did you find yourself in that role?
I was completely happy at Lincoln High School and over the years had been collaborating on several curriculum writing projects with Sierra College and Sacramento State. I just love collaborating and learning from other great teachers and often find myself saying yes to anything that allows me those opportunities. One of my last projects as a teacher was helping write curriculum for a senior math class. The course supports Algebra 2 concepts in a more experiential discovery approach to ensure students maintained and strengthened their math skills prior to entering college. Once the course was written, I was privileged to be one of the teachers for the course. Through my collaboration with PCOE staff on the course, I found out about the math coordinator position open at PCOE. In two days, I had to update my resume and letters of recommendation to apply. The math coordinator position is a dream job and the opportunity to work with teachers and affect so many students is a real honor.
What motivated you to move out of the classroom and into this role?
I saw it as an exciting opportunity to help other teachers see the value in empowering students to learning math in a different way. I realized that if other teachers had the opportunity to reignite their passion for teaching math as I had through this course, then I could affect so many other students to love math the way I do.
Previous to your UCCI Institute participation, had you done any integration of CTE and academics?
My first experience working with CTE was through Sierra College's CTE department. My math classes participated in a CTE catapult workshop, leading me to write a math application to the finished product. It was subsequently adopted with the lesson. This was just a single lesson so I have never had the privilege of writing a complete course.
What was your experience working with the Agriculture teachers at the UCCI Institute for CRANE (Capital Region Academies for the Next Economy)?
What an honor! When we were brought together for the first time, we collectively decided to increase the rigor of the math to honor the importance of the agriculture content. We didn't realize what we had stepped into, but working with the teachers on my team was so powerful. They each knew their content so well and their dedication to making a quality course was evident. It truly lifts us all to be able to work with such dedicated educators.
What do you think are/will be the challenges for schools preparing for Common Core?
Common Core shifts the accountability from students engaging in more surface level cognitive activities to more complex demands such as understanding, questioning and justifying what and how they learn. This is a shift in teaching and teachers need to be collaborative and supported. We are all being required to learn and try new things and although it may be a challenge, we owe it to our youth to better prepare them for the demands of a global economy.
Would you say this is an exciting time for Math Instruction, and why?
Although demanding, I think the common core standards will ignite teacher's passions for teaching math. I have heard from many teachers that have been transitioning to common core that even though it is a huge time commitment, they are seeing students succeed and become better thinkers than ever before.
What are some of your favorite resources for Math educators, and why?
There are many sites that have problems that are interesting and engaging for students. A few of these sites are: Jo Boaler's youcubed, Illustrative mathematics, MARS math and PBS learning. Each of these sites supports student inquiry, perseverance and the ability to solve problems in their own way. These are skills that students can use throughout their lives regardless of the content.