The Lesson That Helped Me Be a Presidential Award Winner

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I just returned from the most excellent trip to Washington, D.C., where I collaborated with great math and science teachers and shared practices and needs with people from NSF and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Best of all, I shook hands with President Obama when he presented the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) to me! What an incredible experience, and one that I want all of my science and math teacher friends to experience, so I thought I would share a little about the application process and the lesson that I submitted.

Presently the application portal is open for K–six and seven–12 in alternating years. There is talk of combining them, however, so you could apply any year regardless of grade. The application is usually due in April or May. You have to be nominated, but you can nominate yourself. My first year, I was nominated by my district supervisor and did not receive the award. The next time, I nominated myself and won. The application is almost like a small National Board Portfolio. It requires a 45-minute video and written entries about instructional strategies, assessment and leadership outside the classroom. Easy peasy, right?

My Lesson:
I chose to submit a video of my lesson, Discovering the Equation of a Circle. My lesson began with giving the students sets of ordered pairs and asking them to find the mathematical model that would fit the data. I gave them a linear set, a quadratic set, an exponential set and a set of ordered pairs that did not make a function (it was a circle). Some groups did not plot the points. They just looked at the relationship between x and y and created the equation, so when they got to the circle, they had no idea what the equation or the shape was because they hadn’t plotted the points. This was a good opportunity for the students to collaborate with other groups. Once they figured out it looked like a circle, I asked them if they could prove it. This led to using Siri to find the definition of a circle, and each group tackled the job of proving the points were equidistant from a center point. Some groups used the Pythagorean theoremTheorem from the given points to the point they thought was the center. One group used points they thought were the endpoints of diameters. Another student, Shauna, used her TI-Nspire™ CX handheld to plot the points and then used the equation template to find the circle that went through the points.


I had never shown the equation templates to the students, so she found this on her own. A great way to start the class the next day was by showing how her discovery can help us study equations of all circles and their transformations. She did not work through the math of the Pythagorean theorem (distance formula) that I had wanted the students to do, but her method led to an excellent discovery (as well an excellent use of TI-Nspire™ CX technology).

When teachers are able to provide students with tasks that they can explore and attack in their own way, beautiful discussions, learning and discovery takes place. Using a task like this I believe was helpful in me earning the PAEMST. I want to encourage you to apply. As your momma would say, “It’s good for you.” All of the planning, videoing and reflection will only make you a better teacher. If you don’t get the award at first, try again! That’s what I did.

Julie Shouse Riggins


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