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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

Kay Kubena and Tootsie Pops

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Kay Kubena who was honored last month as 2013 HISD Secondary Teacher of the Year.  She was first nominated and honored by her peers as Teacher of the Year at Bellaire High School, and then chosen among 12,000 HISD teachers for the district award.  She was kind enough to allow me to videotape some of our conversation.  During our chat, she shared that her favorite course to teach is A.P. Statistics.  Although she has been a teacher for 27 years, she has taught Statistics for only the past 5 years since she’s been at Bellaire High School.  At her former school, she taught A.P. Calculus, A.P. Computer Science, and Precalculus or Algebra 2.  When she was first asked to teach A.P. Statistics, she was understandingly a bit hesitant.  But she now embraces the course, and loves how she can incorporate creative hands-on activities within the curriculum.  I asked her to describe an activity that has been successful in engaging students, and she talked about a lesson on mean and standard deviation that focused on the age-old question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”  Watch. (youtubevimeo)

When I asked her how she prepared to teach AP Statistics, an entirely new course for her five years ago, she said she attended several trainings offered by the College Board.  But the one that really empowered her as a teacher was a session offered at A&M with Kathy Fritz.  Kay states that Kathy “was remarkable.  I felt like she opened up that part of instructional strategy of engaging the kids physically as well as mentally, using all their senses.”  She continued, “Changing to Stats, you have just so many more opportunities to be creative.  That’s one thing about teaching…the creativity.  How do you take something that the kids might even not like doing, it might not be that fun, but you want them to learn it.”  Kay believes that teachers should strive to help students develop positive feelings towards a topic.  The topic “might not be the most fun thing in the whole world…you might not be able to make the information itself all bells and whistles, but you can make the delivery of it pretty fun and interesting.  You can also apply it in really fun and interesting ways too.   And that’s what is attractive to kids, and makes our job much more fun if we can do that too.”

A couple of things struck me as I was talking with Kay.  Her expertise with mathematical content is clearly evident.  She graduated from Rice U. with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, no small feat.  But her humility and kindness really shined through.  When she was offered a position to teach at Bellaire, she was ready to teach any class because she was grateful to be at a school with such high standards and expectations.

Congratulations to you, Kay.  We are so proud of you.  You not only inspire your students to learn, but also inspire your colleagues to strive to become better teachers.

Kay is a RUSMP Instructor and will be co-teaching with Julie Burnside the week-long SMART grant program this summer and will be co-teaching with Charlie Burrus the academic year A.P. Statistics course starting in September 2013.   Click here for more information about the A.P. Statistics course.

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