Real-life lessons in math class

Everyday examples help pupils get excited about the work, middle school teacher says


When teaching percentages to seventh-graders at North Carroll Middle School in Hampstead, Lisa Kelly said she usually brings in old clothes and has her pupils go "shopping," where they have to determine the cost of items with different discounts.

Kelly said relating lessons to real life helps get pupils excited about math.

"It makes it a little bit more interesting, and they don't have to sit there and wonder why they are learning this," she said. "I try and answer the question `What are we going to use this for?' before they ask it."

Kelly, 46, of Westminster, has been teaching for 14 years, 11 of them in Carroll.

She was recently recognized for her accomplishments in the classroom when the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce selected her as an outstanding teacher. She was one of eight educators to receive the award this year.

The four high school, two middle school and two elementary school teachers were chosen from among nearly 200 student-nominated teachers countywide. One will be named Teacher of the Year this week.

Carl Snook, North Carroll's principal, said he has witnessed Kelly's dedication as a teacher over the years. He worked with her previously at Sykesville Middle School, where she taught reading and math.

"She's very well-respected by the students and their parents, and she's just an outstanding team member and faculty member," Snook said.

Kelly also helps pupils through an after-school tutoring program that she runs, Snook said.

"She wants to be sure her students are successful, and she will go the extra mile to make sure they are," the principal said.

The tutoring program is designed to help a small group of pupils who are struggling or in danger of failing, Kelly said. It is held Tuesdays and Thursdays for about an hour.

"We just get them to be responsible for themselves and to keep up with their work," Kelly said. She and "study-buddy helpers" assist with homework and projects in various subjects.

In Kelly's classroom, pupils learn from hands-on lessons.

"I don't want them to think we just have to get to a certain page in the book," she said.

When discussing ratio and proportion, her pupils create "mini-me" pictures based on their height and size.

"They had to measure themselves with tape measures and then show how they would downsize their body in proportion to one-eighth that size," Kelly said. "They seemed to like that, and it got them into learning."

She also uses food to help her pupils understand the basics of the number pi, or 3.14, which is the ratio that can be found by dividing a circle's circumference by its diameter.

For extra credit, pupils could bake round cookies, cakes or pies to measure and complete calculations to get pi.

"Then we talk about how we always get this number pi and how the Greeks discovered it," Kelly said. "It just makes it a little more real to them."

Pupils in Kelly's classes also do math that relates to their parents' mortgages, taxes and paychecks.

"I really like to see when they get it, and they learn to apply it," Kelly said.

Another way she helps her pupils succeed is by giving study guides for math tests. Students who do poorly on tests can make corrections for half-credit.

"They get credit for going back and reworking the problem, but they are also getting some self-esteem for doing it correctly," Kelly said.

A graduate of what is now Towson University, Kelly has taken classes at McDaniel College, the University of Maryland and Carroll Community College.

Outside of classroom, she is involved with St. John Roman Catholic Church in Westminster, and she collects donations for organizations including the United Way and March of Dimes.

Kelly said her life is also centered around her two children.

Her son is a freshman in college, and her daughter is a senior at Westminster High School, where Kelly is a member of the band parents' booster program.

"I've just always loved kids," Kelly said. "I like hearing things from their perspective, and I am always learning from them. It's neat to talk to them and see what's their take on things."

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