Earlier this month, on January 4th, Ms. Maria Hernandez was awarded the Rosenthal Prize for Innovation and Inspiration in Math Teaching by the National Museum of Mathematics, or MoMath.
At the beginning of this year, Ms. Hernandez, a mathematics teacher from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, joined the ranks of Deerfield Academy’s teaching staff as a Wilson Fellow.
Ms. Hernandez studied mathematics for her undergraduate degree, and received her Master’s degree in mathematics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Describing the MoMath award, Ms. Hernandez explained, “The Museum of Math wants to promote hands-on learning that inspires mathematical curiosity in students. Through this award, what they’re hoping to do is collect lessons that are easily replicable in… middle school classroom[s].”
To win the MoMath award, Ms. Hernandez submitted a lesson called “Pass the Candy,” which introduces students to the ideas of recursion and iteration. In this lesson, she explained that students are divided into groups of three or four and each student is given a different number of candies. Each student then passes half of their candies onto the student on their left. This passing on is repeated a few times until the students are asked to hypothesize what they think will happen; they begin to realize that the number of candies they all hold will eventually even out to the point of equilibrium — where the amount of candies in each student’s hands is equal and unchanging.
Ms. Hernandez remarked, “It’s a simple idea, but a really big idea that comes up in many subjects, such as mathematics, chemistry, and physics.” She added that hands-on activities allow students to “see that mathematics [can] be a creative space where they [can] use their own ideas.”
The MoMath award is not the first teaching award that Ms. Hernandez has won. She has also been honored with the 2009 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching and the 2013 UNC Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Ms. Hernandez enjoys teaching at Deerfield, where most classes last the full three terms of the school year.
“I have really gotten to know my students here, which was not always the case at my school in North Carolina, where many classes only last one term,” she said.
In the future, Ms. Hernandez said that she will continue to think “about creating activities that can do what MoMath is trying to promote, and help teachers embrace the idea that they don’t have to be tied to a specific curriculum.”
She also mentioned, “This award was affirmation that what I’ve been doing for a lot of years is valued by a broader community.” She added, “MoMath is a great example of the folks that are really dedicated to the idea that mathematics is beautiful, useful, and fun.”