Getting students out from behind desks

Essex teacher honored for innovative instruction in her math classes

October 18, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Sitting through an algebra, computer science or engineering class isn't always easy, so Kim Burton-Regulski tries to get her students out of their chairs as much as possible.

In a college algebra class this week at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, she had students stretching their arms to show the shapes that polynomial functions would take on a graph.

In a computer science class, she had them walking around the room to poster boards stuck on the walls to decipher different pieces of code.

And in an engineering class, she took a day off from programming to let the students build a clubhouse out of newspapers.

At 27, Burton-Regulski is often mistaken for a high school student.

But she is no amateur: She was among eight teachers statewide honored Thursday night for outstanding instruction by the Maryland Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Two other winners are from Baltimore County schools, Jennifer Littman of Carney Elementary and Patricia Manley of Hebbville Elementary. The award recipients were selected based on classroom observations.

R. Michael Krach, president of the math council, has known Burton-Regulski since she was a student at Towson University.

He said her teaching stands out because "she makes the kids the experts" and "kids aren't afraid to make mistakes" in her classes.

Burton-Regulski assists Krach in a summer program he runs to provide math teachers with professional development.

Burton-Regulski is a lifelong resident of Baltimore County and a product of its public schools.

She has known she wanted to teach math for as long as she can remember. She has a wallet-size portrait of herself taken when she was in second or third grade at Oakleigh Elementary School. A banner behind her says "When I Grow Up," and she is holding a book - Holt School Mathematics, Teacher's Edition.

Today, Burton-Regulski is in her sixth year at Eastern Tech, where she began immediately after her Towson graduation. In her time at the school, she has started two summer programs: a two-week remedial math class and a one-week engineering class to spark middle school girls' interest in the subject. She is teaching six classes this year, one more than most teachers at the school.

On display in her classroom are student tests, posters ("You'll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take"), and quotes from Aristotle and Albert Einstein ("The search for truth is more precious than its possession").

Burton-Regulski's courses this year include two sections of Advanced Placement computer science and one of freshman engineering, both subjects she is teaching for the first time. She looks to her husband - Tim, a computer programmer - for advice, and she has enrolled in night classes at Villa Julie College.

Her computer science classes at Eastern Tech are especially challenging to teach, she said. Some of the students have no prior exposure to programming; others have taken a class in the computer language C++ and must put that knowledge aside to learn Java.

On Wednesday, as she explained three types of programming loops, Burton-Regulski provided examples relevant to students' lives.

"Say that we're talking about going to the movies," she said before having them figure out how to write a program determining who is old enough to attend an R-rated movie.

In her second computer science section, she changed the example to being old enough for a driver's license.

She also asked the students whether they found diagrams she made for them helpful. They did.

During engineering class that day, she invited two seniors to show her freshmen students a trebuchet, or catapult, they built; the freshmen will do the same project themselves in a few years. Then she let the class loose to build a clubhouse, or geodesic dome.

She tries to do a few fun activities with the engineering class each week to liven up what she said can be dry material.

"The activities I do to make it a little more interesting," she said. "You've got to think and really be creative, but I think it pays off."

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