Teacher makes math count for pupils

Elementary educator wins state excellence award for making learning fun

December 28, 2003|By Amanda Angel | Amanda Angel,SUN STAFF

When math lessons are about to begin, second-grade teacher Fran Plotycia doesn't grab her thinking cap. She reaches for her Number Lady coat at Abingdon Elementary School.

The colorfully decorated white lab coat was one of the teaching instruments that impressed the Maryland Council of Math Teachers when it gave Plotycia its 2003 Excellence in Mathematics Teaching award.

For Plotycia, who found the subject difficult when she was in school, getting her pupils to appreciate math is a main objective.

"I found it difficult," she said. "When I grew up, girls weren't expected to be good at math. But my students love math. They get excited about all the little tricks."

Ginny Hinckley, a former math specialist at Harford County public schools, said Plotycia's struggle might help her communicate it to her pupils.

"Teachers who struggled with math have that extra mission that no one else struggles with it," Hinckley said.

Part of Plotycia's challenge in getting her pupils to like math is developing techniques that make it accessible to them. She is one of two Harford County teachers nationally certified in math recovery, a program for struggling math pupils developed by the Australian Research Council, Hinckley said.

The second drawer of the architect's chest at the front of the classroom is where Plotycia stores her math materials. She has number grids used to help with addition and subtraction, laminated mats with pictures of blocks and "magic" felt-tip pens used to draw on the mats.

While the pupils have mathematics textbooks, Plotycia said she only uses one or two pages from the book for each of the two- to four-week units in the county's public school curriculum.

"My way of building their knowledge is to take concrete materials and use those to explore concepts," she said. But more importantly, she teaches in a way that is fun for pupils.

Abingdon's principal, Kathleen Burr, nominated Plotycia for the state award during the previous school year, and Plotycia later submitted an essay describing her teaching methods.

The Maryland State Department of Education observed her classroom in September. Plotycia donned her Number Lady coat and sang her Number Lady song for the panel. They notified her that she had won last month.

Plotycia, who lives in Bel Air, began teaching at Abingdon Elementary School seven years ago.

Before her teaching career, Plotycia ran a home day care while earning a teaching degree at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore and raising her daughters Julie, 22, and twins Rachel and Sarah, 13. Plotycia decided to pursue a teaching job once her twins were enrolled in first grade. Her husband, Greg, is the planetarium teacher at Aberdeen High School.

"It's validated my love of teaching math," Plotycia said of the award, but she is more proud of the national board certification she achieved last year.

It took Plotycia the entire school year to submit videotaped lessons and to prepare for the three-hour test necessary for the certification, which she obtained on her first try.

"It is the highest level you can reach," she said. "It's the upper echelon of teachers."

The national board certification requires that a teacher be proficient in all areas of education. However, although she admits to favoring reading as a student, she does exude a zeal for math lessons.

"She is a masterful teacher that has a solid teaching of mathematics, and she is continually striving to improve her knowledge base," Hinckley said. Plotycia has been taking graduate-level math courses at Towson University.

Although Plotycia appreciates the awards, she said she finds "the children's excitement when they learn something" even more rewarding.

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