How this middle school teacher gets students to challenge themselves in math

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    This story is first published Written by Chalkbeat. To sign up for our newsletter,

    When Salvador Quijada, a 7th and 8th grade math teacher at Phillips Academy Charter School, looks back on his journey as a mathematician, he credits a high school math teacher who encouraged him to study AP Calculus. Masu. Quijada said his teacher's belief that he could succeed allowed him to challenge himself in ways he wouldn't have otherwise considered.

    Now, Quijada brings that positive attitude into her lessons. Last year, he approached Yasmeen Sampson, headteacher at Phillip, asking her to pilot a new accelerated program to help more students prepare for Algebra 1.

    Mathematics scores on the state exam remain a cause for concern, as Newark's overall pass rate remains at 15% for students in grades 3-9. Both traditional public schools and charter schools in the city have prioritized increasing math proficiency during the 2023-24 school year.

    Quijada believes that giving students the opportunity to work on more difficult equations increases their excitement about the subject. This year, he said, his accelerated students appreciate the opportunity to take on challenges and are thriving in Quijada's classroom.

    In a recent interview with Chalkbeat Newark, Mr. Quihada, who is in his seventh year of teaching at the K-8 school, spoke about his passion for mathematics and his desire to pass it on to the young mathematicians of the Phillips Academy Charter .

    This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

    When and how did you decide to become a teacher?

    I am a student at New Jersey Institute of Technology and came to Phillips Academy as part of the tutor work-study program. I enjoyed watching academics develop an appreciation for mathematics, and it reminded me of my favorite mathematics teacher who inspired me to pursue a career in mathematics. As a result of all these factors and a lot of thought, I decided to change course to become a middle school math teacher. It was the best decision. I enjoy coming to work and helping academics in any way I can.

    What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

    My favorite lesson is how to solve and write algebraic equations because algebra is the basis of all mathematics. Scientists always enjoy solving difficult equations and finding the values ​​of unknown variables because it makes them happy.

    What is the best advice you ever received and how did you put it into practice?

    The best advice I've ever received is to have kids speak in class. Although this may seem like a counterproductive situation, when children talk to each other, it promotes participation and higher-level learning. They learn the most from each other. Children are able to discuss problems and provide evidence for their ideas, which helps them better understand their mistakes. We often collaborate in groups, especially when using vertical learning surfaces, when working on problems on a window or whiteboard, and children get up and move around.

    What new challenges arose in your classroom during the recent school year, and how did you address them?

    There were many students who needed more work in mathematics. Another teacher and I wanted to implement an accelerated version of the 7th grade curriculum because we were seeing a lot of students excelling in math. We wanted to help them become more successful and avoid stagnation by providing challenges. We brought the idea to Principal Sampson and she encouraged us to move forward with it. She did some research to find the right curriculum. Children definitely enjoy the work and challenge the class brings. They collaborate, discuss and work hard.

    What is happening in the community that influences what is happening in the classroom?

    There's always so much going on in Newark! As a Newark resident, I see new restaurants, shows, and cultural and artistic opportunities. We took students to events at museums, the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and the Prudential Center. I usually teach his STEM elective class, but I was working on giving my students a more well-rounded experience, so I requested that he teach drums. In this class, you'll look at different drum styles from around the world, learn different beats, and immerse yourself in different music genres.

    How do you deal with news events in your classroom?

    I like to be transparent with my kids and discuss things. Our Leader in Me classes facilitate time dedicated to all-important discussions and social-emotional learning. Scholars are always sharing their feelings and great perspectives as young citizens of the world.

    Please tell us about some of your accomplishments as a teacher that you are particularly proud of.

    I am particularly proud of creating a classroom environment that fosters respect, learning, and engagement from everyone who enrolls. I always want academics to feel comfortable and safe, even if they make mistakes. I try to emulate my favorite teachers throughout my life. In my first year as a teacher, I had a student who constantly challenged me and made it difficult for me to teach. I really learned how to work with him and needed to get to know him in order to best support him. Once I was able to build a relationship with him, it became much easier to teach him. Seven years later, I still keep in touch with him and enjoy hearing all about his accomplishments.

    chalk beat is a nonprofit news site covering educational changes in public schools.

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