Linda Adamson doesn't mind that her fifth-graders play cards on the classroom floor.
That's part of how they learn math.
They also use a phrase -- "dirty monkeys smell bad" -- to help them with division problems and talk to a Guatemalan "Frizzle" drawn on the blackboard.
This isn't your typical elementary curriculum, but it has won Mrs. Adamson, a former computer programmer and systems analyst, the Maryland Teacher of the Year Award for Anne Arundel County.
"When I got into teaching, it was the first time that I felt like I had a career," Mrs. Adamson said.
She won the award, usually given to highly experienced secondary teachers, after three years as a full-time classroom teacher.
"She is such an enthusiastic teacher. She makes learning exciting for the students," said Victoria Waidner, who nominated Mrs. Adamson and is principal at Mayo Elementary.
"No challenge is too great for her. She gives one thousand percent."
Visit the classroom at the end of a hall in this small community school and you'll find students learning traditional lessons in untraditional ways.
One example is the phrase she uses to help her students remember the four steps in solving a division problem -- division, multiplication, subtraction and bring down. She took the first letter of each step and created the sentence: "Dirty monkeys smell bad."
Students also learn math by playing a version of the card game "I Declare War."
One student sets the rules for the class and the students work in pairs to play the game.
On Thursday, the rules required students to draw two cards from their deck, put a decimal point before the card's value, then multiply the two numbers. The person with the highest number won the match.
The students kept notebooks showing their math work and who won each match. Mrs. Adamson, dressed in a blue cotton dress with a brightly colored, stitched Guatemalan design, enthusiastically gave them "high fives" for jobs well done.
Her students think she deserves a "high five" for her work.
"If we have a problem, she's not the kind of teacher who says, dTC 'OK, we'll talk about it later.' She talks about it right then," said Kate Sonnenleiter.
"She basically just makes everything fun," said Skip Ward, another student. "She listens to us, she encourages us to learn, and she shows us tricks to math."
The blackboard in Mrs. Adamson's classroom has a few strange-looking symbols. Two represent days on the Mayan calendar, pictured as a series of lines and dots. The other is a "Frizzle," a fuzzy-looking drawing that helps the kids learn their lessons.
"Frizzle is from Guatemala, and he has a hard time learning," Meghan Ward, another of Mrs. Adamson's students, explained. "Whenever we learn something, we explain it to him."
The class defines "Frizzle" subjects as words that are hard to pronounce or spell, difficult math concepts and tough geography lessons.
On some days, the activity in the classroom is constant, but it doesn't bother Mrs. Adamson.
"Oh, it's such a kick," she said with a bright smile. "It's more exciting than any job I've had. Turning kids on is just such a high. Just watching them get excited about things is wonderful."
Posters teach students to think critically and creatively. Those who show a positive attitude are rewarded with handbills containing tips on positive thinking, phrases such as "be open-minded," "be clear" and "push the limits."
Mrs. Adamson said she believes giving her best to the kids will reap rewards.
"My goal for the students is to prepare them to be successful 30-year-olds," she said.
"If I can manage to do a good job of what I'm here to do, then the results will be felt in the lives of these children, and in the people they touch."