UNION CITY — The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) are the nation’s highest honors for teachers in those subjects.
According to PAEMST.org, awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education. Since 1983, more than 4,700 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession. Mississinawa Valley High School Principal Jeff Winchester nominated Math Teacher Gwen Bergman. She is in her eleventh year of teaching – second at Mississinawa Valley, and is also teacher mentor and co-Future Farmers of America Adviser.
“Not only is Mrs. Gwen Bergman an outstanding mathematics teacher, but is continuously looking to improve her craft,” Principal Winchester said. “She reflects on her practice, seeks new and improved methods and is willing to share her knowledge with her colleagues.”
“I feel humbled by the nomination of this award and humbled by the experience of my peers picking me as Teacher of the Year, this year, for Mississinawa Valley. I was surprised by both of them. But the biggest win for me, and my definition of success, is at the end of every day when I hear kids say, ‘Yeah, I got that Mrs. Bergman – that makes sense.’”
Bergman said she strives to make math meaningful through applied projects and real-world applications. One was a K’NEX motorized amusement park ride. Senior calculus students had to build the ride per the manufacturer’s instructions to learn how the motor worked and how to build momentum. They tore it down and rebuilt it with their own design. During the project, students were required to use three principals of calculus and one of physics.
In addition, last year, both at the Great Darke County Fair and King’s Island, Bergman videotaped amusement park rides. The videos were uploaded to Google Classroom. Pre-calculus students were required to determine the speed of the rides based on the videos. She also attended a Dayton Dragons game and took slow motion videos of the batters and then someone hitting a pop fly. Based on the videos, the students were able to develop a quadratic equation for the pop fly.
“They really enjoyed that,” Bergman said. “When you can find projects that relate to the real world, and it is not just paper and pencil, it makes a huge difference.”
Another way Bergman tackles negative views of math is to invalidate the rumor that a math gene exists. She utilizes the tools she has posted on her “Growth Mindset” bulletin board. She often refers to a saying, “A student doesn’t care what you know, until they know you care”.
“I truly believe every student can learn math,” she said. “I try to build a rapport with students and make them feel successful at some level. Once I have that success with them, it allows me to establish credibility with them that they can learn. Mistakes are okay – they grow your brain. I don’t want the fastest math student, or the student that makes zero mistakes, because they are not growing. They are not learning to their full capacity.”
In addition to Mississinawa Valley, Bergman also taught Math and Science at Miami Valley Career Technology Center (MVCTC) for eight years, under the supervision of Dr. Nick Weldy as then Math and Science Supervisor.
“I had a student that was in Allied Health and taught math to her,” Bergman said. “She said, ‘Mrs. Bergman, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be in nursing’. That is so humbling – it is those stories that make this a very humbling job.”
Dr. Weldy wrote Bergman a letter of reference for her PAEMST nomination – three were required.
“Mrs. Bergman is a dynamic and student-centered instructor who has always been focused on her students’ success.” Weldy said.
While she said she is honored, whether or not Bergman moves on to win the PAEMST is not really her focus. Her eyes are on the prize – her students. For those teachers needing advice, she shared her teaching philosophy.
“Reflect everyday,” she said. “There are more good things that happen in a day than bad, so focus on the positive and celebrate the small victories. Build rapport with students, be passionate about what you teach and stay positive.”
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