Award-winning math teachers profiled: Doug Callahan

Award-winning math teachers profiled: Doug Callahan

Doug Callahan, Glenn C. Jones Middle

Doug Callahan, who teaches who teaches 7th grade math at Glenn C. Jones Middle, 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 Matt Winking, the other GCPS finalist.

How does GCPS' middle school math curriculum help prepare students for the competitive world they’ll live in as adults?
The new AKS, aligned with the Georgia Performance Standards, allow the students of Gwinnett County to graduate in a stronger position, competitive with other students across the nation for college placements and high-quality employment. Our goal of providing a world-class education in Gwinnett reminds us that maintaining high levels of achievement by Georgia’s criteria is only a beginning. Our students must be prepared to compete globally once they graduate. The mathematics curriculum brings objectives with increased rigor to younger students, and shifts the emphasis from procedural memorization to problem-solving applications.

What about your teaching style helps students to connect with the curriculum and engages them in learning?
I subscribe to the philosophy of “they don’t care what you know until they know that you care”. Although I have a high level of expectation in my classroom, students know that I care about them and support them throughout the year. I try to provide as much support through tutoring, extra help, and online resources as is possible so that students feel that they are not alone in the journey of mathematics that we require that they embark upon. As levels of rigor increase in the curriculum, this is increasingly more important now than in the past. Students need to feel that the classroom environment provides the safety to take risks in problem-solving and allows mathematical communication amongst students, but also provides the structure necessary for learning to take place.

How do you help students apply mathematical thinking to real-world problems?
The new curriculum places a strong emphasis on connecting the mathematics to relevant applications. I am constantly in search of high-quality word problems, investigations, and rich problem-solving opportunities that allow students to move beyond computation and focus on application. The key to engaging students in mathematical applications is to find problems and situations that are relevant and interesting.

How does technology support math lessons in your classroom and what impact does it have on student learning?
I am fortunate to have an interactive whiteboard in my classroom, which allows endless technology applications for my students. The lessons, which include both a dynamic, animated view of the board as well as the audio of the classroom, are recorded and uploaded to the classroom website. Students and parents can go to the site and watch the lessons from the past, allowing opportunities to review for assessments and answer nightly homework questions. In addition, students are currently working on their own websites, where they are choosing InterMath problems, writing up the explanations and solutions, and publishing their work on the web. As a result of these initiatives, amongst others, problem solving skills increase and high levels of achievement are the result.

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?
Although tough for a teacher to admit, I feel that there are certain parts of the curriculum that do indeed fall into the “I’m never going to use this” category, at least outside of future mathematics classes. I do, however, firmly believe in the necessity and value of learning to think critically, logically and rationally. These skills are vital to successfully solving problems that will undoubtedly arise in both professional and academic pursuits in the future of our students. Although some students have natural talent towards mathematics, all of our students are able to achieve high levels of mathematical understanding, as long as they know that they have teachers who care about their success and future.

What makes you a "math person"? What makes you want to share your love of math with Gwinnett students?
I love a challenge. A problem or puzzle which initially seems daunting and impossible, once solved is enormously rewarding. I try to instill in my students the need for patience, creativity and perseverance while trying to tackle challenging situations, whether it be a specific problem, or the study of mathematics as a whole. Middle school mathematics can be challenging for many students, but I find great satisfaction in seeing students achieve high levels of success. The new middle school Accelerated Sequence is a great example of students working very hard to achieve a level of mathematics previously reserved for much older students. I am currently working with a group of students to prepare them for an Accelerated high school level class during their 8th grade year. These students are achieving amazing things, and I am quite proud of their accomplishments. These students will be in a strong position to both compete on a global scale, but also guide our local community as leaders of their generation. Does a middle school mathematics teacher make a difference? Absolutely!