Award-winning math teachers profiled: Matt Winking

Award-winning math teachers profiled: Matt Winking

Matt Winking, Phoenix High

Matt Winking, who teaches math in grades 10–12 at Phoenix High, is one of two GCPS math teachers among three Georgia finalists for the 2008 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Click here to read about Doug Callahan, the other GCPS finalist.

How does GCPS' high school math curriculum help prepare students for the competitive world they’ll live in as adults?
Gwinnett County’s math curriculum is more than the words used to describe the AKS. The AKS simply provide an outline of the mathematics topics to be covered. It is how the dedicated teachers of GCPS consistently interpret those curriculum topics that provide the students with the background they will need to be competitive in the world.…Our county continues to find new ways to be competitive by investigating and evaluating new initiatives that improve the county’s educational opportunities. At Phoenix, we constantly re-evaluate our teaching strategies using data to determine which are most effective in helping our students successfully master the curriculum.

What about your teaching style helps students to connect with the curriculum and engages them in learning?
My teaching philosophy is to involve my students in practical applications of mathematics. The majority of
teacher lectures will be forgotten at some point. Most teacher demonstrations will eventually be lost, but a student-focused investigation will be remembered because the student was involved and engaged. The investigations allow students to learn at varying levels and paces. I supplement this strategy with the use of diagnostic testing to make efficient use of class time. Even though student-led investigations take more time than more traditional teaching strategies, the diagnostic aspect of the pre-testing permits me to omit certain required instruction topics in which students already demonstrate proficiency, with an end result of more actual class time to address areas of weakness.

How do you help students apply mathematical thinking to real-world problems?
My favorite strategies involve student-focused investigations that require students to apply trigonometry to real-world phenomena in a hands-on approach. For example, in one lab, students use mathematics software to create an animation of a Ferris wheel which demonstrates how the height of a rider over time produces a trigonometric sine wave. The visual this lab creates is a powerful non-verbal investigation that helps students make connections between right triangles and smooth trigonometric curves.

How does technology support math lessons in your classroom and what impact does it have on student learning?
Technology is an integral part of my teaching. With several graphing calculator activities and computer applications, such as Geometer’s Sketchpad and Fathom, students can simulate mathematical investigations. These types of technology investigations allow for students of varying levels to study mathematics at multiple levels and meet the needs of more students simultaneously. With TI-Navigator, or what most teachers affectionately call “clickers,” teachers obtain instant assessment data about their students’ understanding of curriculum topics that were just taught and make teaching corrections on the fly. Finally, technology also permits teachers to archive lessons electronically in the form of interactive white board notes and videos to allow students who missed class or just need additional remediation reference material from their class.

You may hear this from your students. . . "I’m not a math person." or "When will I ever use this?" How do you engage those students?
One of my main teaching philosophies is to involve my students in practical applications of mathematics so that students can see how mathematics is used in real life. I have taken classes out to use a micrometer to measure the rotors on my car, used tennis ball launchers to teach vectors, learned about military standards to measure quality control of varying products… any where I can help my students see mathematics I try to help them open their minds. I have taken them to car dealerships, radar control towers, amusement parks. I coordinate a community resource day at my school called “Mathematics in the Workplace,” a forum for speakers from a wide variety of careers who speak to our students about the role mathematics plays in their careers.

What makes you a "math person"? What makes you want to share your love of math with Gwinnett students?
My original career objective was engineering, but life seemed to lead me down a predestined path. I worked part-time as a car mechanic while I attended college as a mechanical engineer major. I began tutoring several students in my class in study groups. Then some other classmates recommended me to their roommates and friends. When I had to decline helping other students due to my work schedule, someone offered to pay me to tutor them. Before long, I found that tutoring college-level mathematics was much more profitable and infinitely more rewarding than working as a part-time mechanic. I was surprised to find how inspirational the tutoring was to me. Suddenly, I was instrumental in helping students succeed in an area that previously caused them untold frustration. After a year of tutoring, I changed my major to Mathematics Education. Others kept telling me that I had a talent for teaching, and it felt rewarding, noble, and even exciting to choose education as a profession. Today I have been teaching for almost 15 years, and I am certain it is the correct path for me. I have had opportunities to leave teaching for employment in technology and curriculum development; however, I know my passion lies in teaching.