A New Angle on Teaching Math with Ms. Zakuto
Teacher Feature, March 2016: Ms. Tammy Zakuto
What does it take to be a teacher today?
We expect a lot from our teachers these days. We want them to be… kind, but structured; Caring, but firm; Funny and smart. And a vibrant personality is only one component of great teaching. We also expect our teachers to teach with passion and differentiate their lessons; Address different learning styles and teach the whole child; Teach, but guide students to make their own discoveries; and do this all for every child in the class. Add to these great expectations a dash of never-ending curriculum content, and the ever-present standardized testing and you’ve got a recipe for a high-pressure, demanding public service. Teaching is not for everybody. It takes patience, self-discipline, personal drive, creative thought and a little sense of adventure. This month’s Teacher Feature, Ms. Tammy Zakuto, embodies these qualities of a great teacher and more…Just ask her third grade class!
Ms. Zakuto was nominated for a Teacher Feature by a peer that claims Tammy’s innovative teaching style, ability to differentiate lessons and desire to constantly challenge her students are what makes her worthy of celebration. By the end of my visit to Ms. Zakuto’s beach-themed classroom, I wholeheartedly agreed!
Is it possible to make math fun? Tammy thinks so! (And so do her kids!)
Measuring angles was today’s topic. Since I’m a Social Studies geek at heart, admittedly, I was a little worried that I might not find a good “angle” for this blog. I was skeptical that a lesson about teaching angles could showcase all of the wonderful things I had heard about Tammy and her teaching methods. I imagined I’d spend most of my time watching students breaking out protractors and measuring lines- the way that I was taught all those years ago. Simply put…things have changed. Math is cool. Measuring angles is fun. And I was wrong!
The students know it’s time for math when they see the three color-coded questions on the SMART® board. The green question indicates a review of their 3rd grade knowledge. Today’s question simply asks the students to identify the degree of the angle shown (90). The room is abuzz…everyone can do this one! They move on to the yellow question which is a bit harder and requires the students to apply what they already know (90 degree angles) to determine the size of another angle- one they haven’t seen yet. Ms. Zakuto remains encouraging, but does not reveal how to solve it. Most of her students have it and she still hasn’t given any instruction on how to do it. Next, everyone tackles the red question: Find the outside angle. Students are applying their knowledge to new situations- a few have the answer (without protractors) and their teacher still hasn’t told them how!
Now, she will finally break out the protractors and tell them how to measure the angles- even those tricky outside angles, right? Wrong. Next is a lesson in understanding the degrees of the circle…without a protractor. Students understand the math right away. They pick up that 90 plus 90 is 180. But to bring it home, she takes it outside of math. With a little prodding, students start identifying elsewhere they hear these degrees. One sweet voice chimes in, “In my dance class, if we only turn half way around, we call it a 180.” Then another, “If I go all the way around on the bars in gymnastics, they call it a 360.” Then Tammy starts to jump and do ¼ turns and half turns so the students can see the degrees of a circle in a physical sense. “Who skateboards?” Ms. Zakuto asks. One boy raises his hand. “What do you call some of your tricks?”
“Well, on a skateboard, we do a 360. And if you can do it twice, it’s a 720.”
I could practically see the little neurons bouncing and connecting in these brains. She wasn’t really giving any answers. She was instead constantly building on previous knowledge, helping them connect the concepts to the world around them and watching them come to their own conclusions. It was beautiful! With this new understanding, the kids were able to figure out all sorts of angles now…and still no protractors!
Guide. Facilitate. Explore. Repeat
With a few more class examples, something special was happening. Students were beginning to see patterns. “Look! Every other one ends in a 5.” And, “I think it looks like a clock.” Or, “It looks like that thing we used in Art…a compass!” Finally, it was time. They were ready…Ms. Zakuto brought out the protractors. No longer a mysterious tool, or “rounded ruler thingy.” These guys understood the lines and the little numbers before she had to explain it. But to really get it and to go further with measuring different angles, a small-group instructional on the topic would’ve been ideal.
Separating into groups of 3 or 4, students spent the next 15 minutes in their math centers. Some were working on their choice of carpet-friendly math games, others explored an intuitive math program on the Ipad. Another group worked playing Angle Kung Fu on the computer, and the rest were huddled around their teacher with protractors in hand in that coveted small-group instructional session. So this is how she does it! Differentiated instruction, addressing multiple intelligences and small group instruction were all rolled up into one lesson.
What it takes to make the difference and affect student learning…
Great teachers have strong intuition. They need to read their students’ needs in that moment and make adjustments when situations change. I think it’s Ms. Zakuto’s passion for thrills, pushing limits and sense of adventure that foster her unique teaching methodologies. Students in Ms. Zakuto’s class are regularly pushed to challenge their minds and often given work that they may not see until next year. “If I sense they can go further, then I push them. I mean, why not?”
It takes a lot of preparation to pull off this kind of learning experience and she does it…every day. It’s why her students love her classes, the parents see growth in their children, and her peers think she should be recognized by The Teacher’s Academy. Her daily lessons look seamless, and to the kids it’s just another day at the beach. But to those who understand the depth of this craft and what it takes to make a difference in today’s education world, Ms. Zakuto is teaching at its best. Bravo, Tammy Zakuto. And thank you for surpassing today’s expectations of what every parent, child, administrator and colleague want in a teacher.
The Teacher’s Academy provides continuing education courses that meet Pennsylvania Act 48 requirements for busy teachers. Our online professional development courses are written by teachers so the content is relevant and the process is convenient.