Talia Swiney was chosen as a Kenan Fellow, and has spent her past two summers shadowing hospital employees in an effort to identify practical, real-world applications of mathematics that she can carry back to her students when the school year begins.
“Being a Kenan Fellow gives teachers the opportunity to be immersed in the workforce, industries and universities so that we can gain experience that we can then share with our students,” said Swiney. “We learn different ways to apply the subjects we teach, and pass that on to our students.”
Nominated by Ellerbe Middle School Principal Melvin Ingram, Swiney, an eighth grade math teacher, has taken on the challenge and devoted her summers to learning.
“I spend time learning about the labs, facilities management and financial aspects at FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital and Moore Regional Hospital,” said Swiney. “For obvious reasons, I can’t actually do any of the work - but I spend my days shadowing people, asking questions about what they’re doing and interviewing them about their jobs.”
One of Talia’s mentors, and President of Richmond Memorial, John Jackson, said the primary reason the hospital participates in the program is “for the kids.”
“Everyone is responsible for trying to improve our kids’ education, and this is a neat way to help do that,” said Jackson. “I was honored that we were asked to participate.”
Swiney said she wrote three lesson plans last summer, with hopes of seeing them published on LearnNC.org, so that they may be shared with teachers and students around the world.
An example of the practical applications she takes back to her students is the importance of understanding ratios, proportions and measurement conversions.
“I noticed that the professionals I worked with commented frequently that they didn’t understand why students coming out of school don’t understand the metric system,” said Swiney. “Our textbooks really focus more on standard units of measurements, but I learned through my work that the students needed more than that.”
She took note of the ways measurements and conversions were used in the hospital setting and, armed with new information, told her students all about it.
“For example, in the classroom we talk about the application of measurements in pediatrics - we pretend to measure babies, weigh them and convert temperatures to Celsius,” she said.”It’s much more exciting for students to be able to use math for a purpose, rather than just trying to solve formulas.”
Swiney said that students’ interest in the subject, class participation and test scores have all improved since her involvement in the program.
“Having concrete examples of why my kids need to know something gives me that missing piece that my kids need to understand what math is used for in the real world,” said Swiney. “I’ve been amazed to see how much math is used every day, and how much of it is applicable to my students.”
There are strands of information that can be used from fifth to eighth grade, so other teachers at the school are benefiting from Swiney’s efforts.
“This is something that will benefit not just the teachers at Talia’s school, but teachers in other schools as well,” said Jackson. “Teachers sharing this information and these lesson plans can help improve education throughout the county.”
“Other teachers can just take the parts of the information I bring back that applies to their curriculum,” she said.
Swiney will continue to take part in the program for the next three summers.
“I’ve even noticed a change in the classroom atmosphere since I’ve started this program,” Swiney said. “The kids are much more engaged. It’s moving from a teacher-led class to a group effort. We have discussions and problem solve - all based on real-world situations in which they would need to apply mathematics.”
— Staff writer Kelli Easterling can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ext. 18, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.