NPC Math Teacher
recognized by Disneyland Resort

There’s no better time than now to congratulate one of NPC’s own, High School Math Teacher, Liz Straayer. As we approach Teacher Appreciation Week, Disney has announced 100 teachers who will be recognized at a celebration of a lifetime! Mrs. Staayer was chosen out of 7,900 applicants to be honored at a special celebration at Disneyland, California this Friday – including being spotlighted in a parade down Main Street U.S.A..

From Disneyland New’s Press Release, “The educators are being honored May 4 through May 7 by Disney Imagination Campus for bringing creativity and imagination to life in their curriculum, which aligns perfectly with Disney Imagination Campus’ mission of inspiring the next generation of creative thinkers and leaders through imagination-powered learning.”

Wow, what an honor!

Mrs. Straayer included her students to help her articulate an essay (below) that answered the question, Describe an example where you brought wonder, creativity and imagination to life in your curriculum that inspired students in new ways.”

Mrs. Staayer was elated to share the incredible news with her classes. But her students were not surprised she was selected; in their minds, she was the obvious choice. 

Way to go, Mrs. Straayer! You certainly deserve the recognition. 

Teaching upper level math classes to students who are not always motivated (and sometimes didn’t choose to be there) requires a teacher to use small bits of creativity frequently. One way I have incorporated wonder into my statistics lessons is by actually using the word “wonder.” I show students a graph with no information on the axes and no title and ask the students what they “notice and wonder.” The students make predictions and use solid statistics vocabulary. Then I slowly reveal a little more information as the students make their predictions until we discover what relationship the graph is showing. The students always get very engaged in this activity and it has become a weekly routine that they look forward to. 

Another way I bring creativity into a specific lesson is when I teach the Pythagorean Theorem to my geometry class. By this time in their studies, they have seen this theorem several times. So, to maintain interest and wonder I need to approach it in a new way so that it does not feel like “same old” to them. To do this, I have them explore the theorem with a puzzle that contains triangles and squares of various sizes. By having them assemble the puzzle in certain ways, it actually proves the theorem. They are always in awe that something that they have known for so long as a formula can be proven in a fun visual way. 

A way that I bring wonder into a new topic for my students is in Algebra 2 is by having them predict and then verify. We do some of this when the students learn about exponential decay. This can be a fairly abstract concept, so to help students “see” it at work we do a lab with m&ms candies representing carbon-14 to model carbon dating decay. Another concept that is very applicable (but can also be very difficult) is Trigonometry. I have the students work in groups to calculate the height of very tall objects around the school so that they can imagine answers to the question “when are we ever going to use this” and find connections between math and possible careers.

Finally, I love being able to connect art and math. A couple of ways I do this to promote student creativity is with tessellations in Geometry and artistic pictures using conic section equation graphs in Algebra 2. I often give very minimal instructions and the students will go well above and beyond expectations as they find that these are fun ways to explore math truths. It is also fun for me when they choose to make Disney characters using their conic equations!