Special Edition

The 2015 State Teachers of the Year

One Educator’s Journey

One Educator’s Journey

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I have realized that it certainly has and will continue to be a village that raises this teacher. My parents were my first teachers and certainly demonstrated to me the value of education through their professional careers and the sacrifices made to ensure I had the best education available. My parents were the first in their respective families to receive a college education; therefore, my going to college was never in question.
Inspiration to Teach

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I have realized that it certainly has and will continue to be a village that raises this teacher. My parents were my first teachers and certainly demonstrated to me the value of education through their professional careers and the sacrifices made to ensure I had the best education available. My parents were the first in their respective families to receive a college education; therefore, my going to college was never in question.

Education was paramount in our home. I am guided by the proverb, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

I am the oldest of four children and easily learned and earned my role as teacher early on. Growing up, the writing was literally and figuratively on the wall. Our house had a blackboard in our basement where I would teach my siblings anything from writing the alphabet and diagramming sentences, to learning multiplication tables. After receiving a desk for my birthday when I was a child, I would “play school” for hours on end, creating lessons even then being guided by my favorite proverb.

While I was growing up, my mother modeled the need and joy for learning for the four of us every day. I remember checking the mailbox daily for the monthly arrival of the latest Dr. Seuss book. No matter what else was happening in the house at that time, she and I would go to the rocking chair and read the book together. I was then able to read that book to whoever would listen. Our backyard steps became the venue for story time as I would read to my siblings and the neighbors’ children.

In high school I had the opportunity to aid in an Algebra 1 class, assisting students with their work and occasionally presenting a lesson. Even then, the reward for involving individuals in their learning and giving them the power to be successful as they discovered their universe was gratifying.

In college, I spent my work-study hours grading papers for the Math Department. In my senior year, this opportunity led to an undergraduate teaching assistantship in which I led recitation sessions. Even in graduate school, teaching was more alluring than the research I was doing. Amazing teachers, opportunities to be involved in education early on and the thrill of witnessing the light bulb appear as a learner discovers/masters something for the first time all contributed to my becoming a teacher and continue to guide me even today after 34 years in the profession. 

My Classroom

I am a career high school mathematics teacher, having spent my entire tenure at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado. I can think of no finer profession in which I can and will continue to make a difference in the lives of our young people as they journey towards their future. Teaching is not only an art but also a science, and I continue to seek out and develop new strategies and materials for my classes so that all my students can share in the vision of their own success.

I believe students can and will rise to the level of the expectations set before them, so I  hold high standards of excellence for myself and for my students.

My students and I begin our journey each year at the threshold of my classroom door with a handshake, a welcome greeting and a sense of belonging to a family. I have created an interactive classroom that is student-focused and standards-driven. Students engage in their own learning through the diverse activities provided as they master each concept. I have created lesson plans that provide hands-on experience based on students’ multiple intelligences and that incorporate performance measured by assessment. My classroom is a true mathematical playground, and students quickly learn that they will work harder than they ever have and make greater gains than they ever have while learning and appreciating a new way to communicate about the world around them through mathematics. Students that have crossed the threshold of my classroom in search of knowledge leave my classroom as informed thinkers, as stronger problem-solvers, as dedicated and determined lifelong learners and as more confident and competent mathematicians. 

The Common Core Standards and the College Board Advanced Placement course syllabi become the blueprints from which I craft the lessons through which my students are expected to gain mastery of the material. The mathematical concepts that need to be taught haven’t really changed over the course of my career; however, my lessons do not look the same as they did 34 years ago, five years ago or even one year ago. I am in the business of teaching kids and must remain flexible to adapt to their changing needs, strengths and weaknesses. I have successfully integrated technology in my classroom as a tool to enhance instruction and to encourage creative thinking. The graphing calculator revolutionized the way students explore mathematical concepts and take real ownership and pride in their discoveries—the increasing numbers of students that access my Calculus course and now my Calculus 3 and Differential Equations courses is evidence of this. I have learned that cooperation, collaboration and communication are key elements to developing the pursuit of excellence in the classroom.

I use a multi-representational approach in my teaching, using the teaching strategies listed below:

  • I ask students to “Do It Numerically, Do It Graphically, Do It Analytically” in order to “Just Do It” (My approach to teaching volume in Calculus illustrates this methodology.).
  • Volume is defined as the integral of cross-sectional area. 
  • I bring in a drill to rotate curves about an axis so that students can understand the three dimensional shape that is formed. 
  • I use an Interactive Calculus CD Rom so that students can see applications to these designs in manufacturing and engineering and Calculus in Motion for exploration. 
  • My students go to the computer lab and use Maple as a tool to create a Hershey’s Kiss.
  • We slice and eat cake in determining a model to calculate the volume of a Bundt Pan.
  • Students use Play-Doh to create three dimensional objects with known cross-sections in which they compute the volume.

My classroom is an engaging classroom in which my students often sing Calculus songs, including songs from Calculus the Musical, which was performed live at our school in April to help them remember differentiation and limit rules. My students use flashcards, MIRAS, pattern blocks, Geoboards and card games to reinforce the concepts in each of the courses I teach.  

My Mission

As I continue to join my students in the discovery of the world around them, I am responsible to empower them with the tools they will need so they can meet and respond to the challenges of their future. My role as a math educator is to ensure that all students develop mathematical power, and it is a dynamic and ever-changing role and therefore my teaching will always remain a work in progress. Even after 34 years in the classroom—or should I say especially after thirty four years in the classroom—I still believe I have the best job in the world.

Thirkell

Kathy Thirkell is Colorado’s 2015 State Teacher of the Year and engages in a year of professional learning facilitated by the Council of Chief State School Officers. For information on a state's selection process, contact its State Teacher of the Year Program Coordinator.

 

Kathy is a career teacher, having spent her entire 34 years teaching mathematics at Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument, Colorado. She is currently the Math Department Chair at Lewis-Palmer, and has led her team through various schedule changes and curriculum changes without sacrificing content and guiding those discussions by doing what is truly best for kids.

 

Kathy graduated from the University of Denver with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and minors in Biology and Chemistry. She has completed one year of Master’s work in Applied Mathematics at the University of Arizona with a concentration in applications to Biology. Kathy was the first undergraduate teaching assistant at the University of Denver and taught Trigonometry and Discrete Math in her time at the University of Arizona. She is passionate about empowering her students with the mathematical tools they will need so they can meet and respond to the challenges of their future. In addition to her responsibilities at the high school level, Kathy is involved in the Advanced Placement program at a national level and is now a Table leader, guiding other readers in interpreting and applying the standards for grading. Kathy also has served the College Board as an AP Calculus grader for nine years.

 

Kathy also had the privilege of teaching both of her children in her Calculus class, and is proud that both of her children are making a difference in the lives of the students they reach as educators.  

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