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Teacher earns fellowship to better serve students

OCEANSIDE — You will usually find El Camino High School mathematics teacher Gregory Guayante in his classroom. Even if it is lunchtime, the door is open for any of his 200 students who have a question. Guayante is determined to go the extra mile for his students including honing his teaching skills by participating in the five-year MfA SD Noyce Master Teaching Fellowship funded by the National Science Foundation and Math for America.
The fellowship requires Guayante to put in three weeks of training each summer, attend conferences and undergo teaching feedback evaluations several times a year. He is one of five teachers to be accepted into the master teaching fellowship.
The fellowship program emphasizes teaching students mathematic reasoning and understanding, which is part of the 2014 California Mathematics Standards. This is a shift from teaching students simple computation steps to reach an answer, which is currently presented in most math textbooks.
“The goal is to develop habits of mind,” Dr. Guershon Harel, fellowship professor, said. “Textbooks have watered math down to the point it loses its essence.”
To instill the key thinking habits of duality, necessity and repeated reasoning, students must achieve independent understanding, have a need to find an answer, and be provided opportunities to practice math reasoning, Harel said.
The benefits are that math makes sense, students enjoy it, and they perform better on tests, he added.
“All humans have the desire to solve puzzles,” Harel said. “We seek to be puzzled. We go to moon. We look into other galaxies. Math is not a collection of fact, it’s reasoning, patterns and phenomena. Teachers can translate that into the classrooms and students can enjoy learning.”
Guayante has been participating in the math fellowship program since July and has already spoken at the California Mathematics Council Conference about his students’ deepened mathematical understanding. At the conference he shared his new approach to teaching and what his students learned when they tackled a word problem that gave the area of one land plot and the proportionate comparisons of three other land plots.
After his English language learner students worked on the word problem in small groups and class discussions for three lessons, they learned about proportions, area, infinite answers and nonfinite answers.
In the classroom, Guayante takes note of how his teaching affects student learning.
“You question everything you do,” Guayante said. “Is this good practice? How does it impact student learning?”
His new approach to teaching math has encouraged his students to take ownership of their learning and ask more questions.
El Camino High School Principal Bob Rowe said he is supportive of Guayante’s efforts to further his skills by participating in the fellowship.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for him,” Rowe said. “He is willing to research, explore, and help all kids learn.”
El Camino High School is a Program Improvement School. Teachers are working to improve the success rate of English language learners and special needs students by making a schoolwide effort to intervene early when students are struggling.