Transforming High School Math Classrooms

Only four years after graduating from high school, Tegan Garon is teaching algebra and calculus at his alma matter. "Right now, I feel like I'm already living the dream. It was almost a painful countdown from the day I signed my contract at Stowe High School to the first day of school. I couldn’t wait," said Garon, who knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a teacher.

"I can’t tell you how many of my family members and childhood friends had to be my 'students' at one time or another. Now I’m still just soaking up the fact that I am actually a teacher and getting to do some really cool things in a variety of classes."

Garon's energy and enthusiasm are contagious with high schoolers in his classes, and it's easy to see how they connect with his teaching style. "One of my strongest motivations is to show kids that 'real math' can take place outside of a textbook, and it can actually be really fun. I use any opportunity to connect learning to the real world."

To learn his craft and prepare for the profession he wanted, Garon was drawn to UVM because it was a fairly big school that felt like a small school. "I really liked the vibe at the school. Several of my high school teachers were UVM alumni, and told me that it was a great school for prospective teachers. I made countless bonds with faculty and peers, and had the most inspiring group of professors. They supported me in my growth of becoming a teacher, but also pushed me to critically reflect along the way. CESS (the College of Education and Social Services) is the best place to push your thinking and shape you into the teacher you want to be. I was able to go to China to learn about their school systems, participate in a large-scale innovative research project, and do a lot of teaching."

Student Feedback

"Every class no matter the material is taught in a way that is quick, organized and sticky," said Jackson, a senior in AP Calculus, about "Coach" Tegan. "You leave the room feeling you understand all that was said, and confident you can replicate the newly learned skills on your own. He makes you strive for excellence and comprehension. Along the way, given you put in the effort and work, he allows you to strive for this without ruining your grade. This is something I believe to be special because it makes you excited to learn new stuff instead of afraid of the test you will have on it. He is a great teacher who always has enthusiasm and a smile on his face. He makes AP Calculus a bright spot in my school day."

Publishing a Research Article

Beginning in his first year at UVM, Garon served as a research assistant to Professor of Math Education Carmen Petrick Smith's study on embodied cognition in the Journal of Mathematical Behavior. Embodied cognition is a developing area of cognitive science suggesting that the brain works in concert with physical movements and other environmental and neural processes including perception, action and emotion. "I was so interested in the project that I decided to branch off from her research and focus upon a specific aspect for my Honors College thesis. The thesis was focused on how students take on various perspectives when they are learning a mathematical task that incorporates the use of their body to make meaning," he explained.

After graduating from UVM, Garon decided to submit his article, What Angle Will You Take? Patterns of Perspective-Taking in a Body-Based Task for publication in AJUR. "At first, I was upset with the feedback from the initial submission, but Carmen explained the normality of revisions, and supported me in making them. The process changed my viewpoint and I learned to accept feedback in a healthier way than I had previously known how to do," he said. "My article was then accepted and published in the August issue of AJUR."

Garon's study provided further evidence that prompting students to explore abstract concepts in a body-based fashion can promote their development of abstract ideas that become pivotal to truly learning mathematics, beyond procedural computations. Now he is working to integrate more body-based activities in his math classrooms. "I have tried to use these ideas...one of which involved students creating a life-sized magic square that launched our investigation about solving equations."

Rewards of Teaching

"I love the 'eureka' moment when a student finally figures something out, and there’s nothing better than when a student is excited to be learning," said Garon. "Students now know that every day in my classroom will be different from the previous day, and I’ve loved using the element of surprise to engage them."

Collaboration and Making Improvements

"I try to be as transparent as possible by admitting when I make a mistake and showing the students that I'm a human being too," Garon explained. He appreciates any chance to have someone observe his teaching and discuss strategies about how the lesson could be improved. "If I’m not willing to expand my thinking and take in opinions from others, then I’m probably not going to improve my practice. As a 22-year-old teacher, sometimes commanding a classroom of rowdy teenagers is not my strongest suit, but I’m working on it. So it really helps to talk with other teachers whenever possible about classroom management techniques they use."

Career Goals

"Long-term, I will likely get my master’s and I wouldn’t mind teaching math education courses at a college level. But I think my niche is in a high school, so I don’t see myself letting go of that any time soon."

 

PUBLISHED

02-01-2017
Doug Gilman