She has it down to a science

Teacher: The National Science Foundation honors an Abingdon educator for her creative techniques.

Education Beat

News from Harford County schools and colleges

April 17, 2005|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN STAFF

For weeks, Abingdon Elementary teacher Francine Plotycia told her second-grade pupils about her not-so-pretty "friend" Wanda B. Witch.

Wanda desperately needed some friends to help her read, but everyone made fun of her, she said. Then, on Halloween, Plotycia stepped out of the classroom, and the green-faced, black-cape-wearing sorceress stepped in.

The pupils had to teach Wanda (Plotycia in green make-up and a rubber hook nose) how to read, just as they had helped the Number Lady (Plotycia, too, in a white lab coat) with math problems.

"That's just the kind of magic that engages kids in learning," said Sandy Richter, whose 8-year-old daughter, Shelby, was in Plotycia's class last year. "She built a rapport with her kids."

The National Science Foundation honored Plotycia's unorthodox teaching methods last week. The foundation named Plotycia a winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, its highest distinction for math and science teachers at elementary and secondary levels. She was one of two teachers in Maryland and 95 elementary teachers nationally to be honored.

Plotycia will receive $10,000 and an expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World, where she can meet and greet professional make-believe witches.

Plotycia and the other award winners spent last week in Washington, visiting President Bush and touring the White House. In the Department of State's Benjamin Franklin room, they dined on carrot-ginger bisque, chicken basilica, shallot roasted new potatoes and a chocolate jewel box. They listened to a speech from Bill Nye the Science Guy, then stood on a balcony that offered a sweeping view of the Washington Monument and other memorials.

Plotycia's royal treatment is well-deserved, say colleagues of the 49-year-old teacher.

"She pushes them to really understand mathematics. It's not just memorizing in her room," Abingdon Principal Kathleen Burr said.

Plotycia uses number grids for addition and subtraction. She writes number songs and sings them. She might ask, "What is the number that's 10 more than 89?" or, "What's the missing number: eight plus blank equals 80?" The pupils then write the answers on miniature chalkboards and hold them up for her to see.

Plotycia grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and came to Maryland in 1978, after husband Gregory Plotycia got a job at Fallston High School. (He now runs the planetarium at Aberdeen High.) While running a home day care center, she went to school on the weekends and earned a teaching degree from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. She then got a master's from Loyola College.

Plotycia, in her eighth year teaching, is one of nine Harford County teachers to be certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

"As a teacher, what I respect the most is she's always learning," said Richter, who teaches third grade at Joppatowne Elementary. "She's always trying to provide the best education for her kids."

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