PAEMST Spotlight: Carol McKay, NBCT
Carol McKay, NBCT teaches Pre-Calculus & Algebra at Capital High School in the Olympia School District
Check out the rest of our PAEMST Spotlight interview series here.
What is one of your favorite lessons to teach and why?
My favorite lessons to teach are when I provide my students a rich task that requires them to work together and problem solve, using a variety of skills that different students can bring to the group. I know they are learning deeply when I hear them talking about the problem — asking questions of each other, presenting their own ideas, and critiquing the ideas of others until they have made sense of the problem. One of my favorite lessons is in trigonometry with my Pre-Calculus students. They must write a sinusoidal equation and make a graph to model a real world problem. There are many variables to consider and many possible solutions — both in the graphs that they create and their resulting equations. It is eye-opening for students when they share with the class and see that there are so many possibilities.
What is one concept your students struggle most to understand and how do you try to address this struggle?
One concept that my students have traditionally struggled to understand is completing the square while working with quadratics. It can be a struggle for many students to understand because of the abstract nature of the algebra. I help students to understand the concept by having them make a visual model and by using manipulatives to see the completed square, and then make a connection to the abstract algebraic process.
Where do you see more opportunity for collaborating with other disciplines to teach math or science?
Math can be incorporated into any other discipline. The more obvious ones are in the sciences such as chemistry and physics. Balancing chemical formulas and solving equations require Algebra skills. Manufacturing classes like welding and wood working require geometric reasoning and problem solving. Poetry lessons can include the discussion around meter and rhythm of poetry. Logic can be used in many creative disciplines in planning artistic layouts. Social Studies teachers are teaching math when students learn how to read and interpret graphs, tables, and historical statistics. These are just some of the ways we can emphasize the use of mathematics in a variety of disciplines.
What are some of the jobs and pathways you are most excited to see your students preparing for?
I’m excited to see my students choose jobs and career pathways that they feel a passion for, are energized by, and that provide them with opportunities to continue to challenge themselves to be lifelong learners.
There are so many jobs and careers that use mathematics routinely, that I am excited to encourage my students in those directions: business, marketing, computer science, engineering, health sciences, robotics, architecture, statisticians, finance, and so many others.
What experiences do you think best prepared you for your teaching career?
During the first two chapters of my career, I worked as a Product Development Engineer and then later as a Marketing Manager. These two jobs gave me experiences in engineering and business arenas that I now share with my students as “real world” applications of the math they learn in high school. This gives me “street cred” with my students when they ask me, as all students ask their teachers, “When will I ever use this math?”
How do you keep current on emerging trends in your field? Any publications, blogs, etc. that you love to follow for interesting research or stories?
After attending a workshop led by Dan Meyer several years ago, I have been a follower of his blog. I believe in his ideas of letting students make their own sense making of mathematical problems without scaffolding — letting students ask their own questions from a situation and then solve them mathematically makes strong learning occur with students.
I have been part of the MEC (Mathematics Education Collaborative) Statewide Number Talks Leadership Project for the past three years. From my involvement with MEC, I have read both Making Number Talks Matter, and Digging Deeper: Making Number Talks Matter Even More by Ruth Parker and Cathy Humphreys as I regularly use Number Talks in my classes to help students think flexibly about numbers and to find their own voice in solving problems.
Other recent books that I have read that have kept me current on emerging trends are: 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussion by Margaret Schwan Smith and Mary Kay Stein, and Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler.
The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and/or computer science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. Awardees will be announced this spring.