Brandy Cooper, a sixth-grade math teacher at Milford Central Academy, was recognized on Thursday, December 1, as a finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in Delaware. Christa Ferdig at Long Neck Elementary School in Indian River School District will compete with Ms. Cooper for the national award, the winner of which will be announced at a later date.
“I was very honored to be nominated for this award,” Ms. Cooper, who as nominated by a colleague, said. “There are so many amazing teachers in the field today and it seems to me that we do not celebrate their hard work and dedication as we should. I am fortunate to be able to spend an evening celebrating the accomplishments of outstanding individuals in the field.”
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching. The award was established by Congress in 1983 and is given to mathematics and science teachers from each of the 50 states and four United States jurisdictions. The award recognizes teachers who develop and implement high-quality instructional programs with informed content knowledge and which enhances student learning. The winner of the award will receive a certificate signed by the President of the United States, a paid trip for two to Washington DC to attend professional development events as well as a series of recognition events. They will also receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation.
In addition to recognize outstanding teaching in math and science, the program provides teachers with the opportunity to build lasting partnerships with colleagues across the country. The growing network of award-winning teachers is a vital resource for improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics education while also keeping the country globally competitive.
Ms. Cooper said that when she was young, she did not like math. She said that she used memorization techniques to just get by, feeling that the subject was abstract and disconnected from her everyday life. When she was in high school, she had a very good math teacher who made all the “pieces fall into place” and, from that point on, Ms. Cooper truly understood math, growing to love it and deciding to go into math teaching.
“I became a math teacher to pass this love of the subject and understanding on to my students,” Ms. Cooper said. “I want them to gain a true understanding of the subject, to become problem solvers, and to recognize how connected mathematics is to their everyday lives. I don’t consider myself a math teacher, but rather a math facilitator. My classroom is very student directed. I truly believe that the learning must come from my students in order for them to gain understanding. My students work collaboratively to solve problems, they present their ideas to the class and they evaluate each other’s ideas to come to a conclusion.”
One of the biggest challenges Ms. Cooper faces is the foundational nature of the subject. Students bring what they have learned in previous grades into her classroom, continuing to build on that as they progress through school. Students come into her classroom with different foundations, making it a challenge to address the different levels of understanding so that students learn what they need to know to move on to the next grade and succeed.
“I love that there are so many different areas in mathematics, from fractions and decimals to geometry and algebra,” Ms. Cooper said. “All individuals have strengths and weaknesses, and it’s such a great feeling to see different students shine at different times based on what we are learning. While one area of math may be challenging, students may find themselves leading their group members in another area. It’s nice to see my students acknowledging each other’s’ strengths while offering and accepting help when they recognize it is needed.”
Ms. Cooper, who is in her ninth year of teaching, says that whether she wins the national award or not, she is honored to be recognized for her part in educating students in Milford School District.
“I am honored just to be recognized as a finalist for this award,” Ms. Cooper said. “I do not feel that teachers celebrate each other’s hard work, dedication and successes as often as we should. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to recognize and celebrate fellow educators. I am also blessed to be able to spend every day passing on my love of math to my students. I so fortunate to work in such a supportive school district. Milford has given me the opportunity to continue to grow as an educator, and I am surrounded by amazing and dedicated colleagues.”
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