Kate Belin is doing what she loves to do and what she was trained to do—teaching math to high school students. Her goal is getting students not only to shed their dread of the subject but also to look forward to tackling new problems in creative ways, and it’s one reason she was picked to receive the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence in Science and Mathematics.
Belin earned both her undergraduate degree in mathematics and her graduate degree in teaching from Bard College. She also took part in Lehman’s Math Teacher Transformation Institute (MTTI) from 2008-2011, a three-year program for teachers with experience, and was in the first cohort to graduate from the program. Belin is the second MTTI graduate to receive the coveted Sloan Award. Last year, Lisa Marie Cover, a math teacher at Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies, was one of eight New York City public school teachers to be honored.
Belin has been teaching geometry and functions to juniors and seniors at the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx for the past seven years. The school’s project-based curriculum gives her the opportunity to fully engage her students by getting them to come up with mathematical questions and then answering them.
“The mathematical rules, formulas, and equations come from the student experience,” explains Belin. “As a teacher, I have to be respectful of the learning process, and that means not giving the students the answers. Doing so would take away from their ability to fully understand the material. Plus, I believe that they can figure it out.”
In one example—a classroom assignment on how scale factor affects surface area and volume—Belin asked her students to create three-dimensional models of animals. The project, and others like it, force students to take math out of the abstract and into the physical world.
The Sloan Award is the first of its kind that Belin has received in her teaching career. She is set to receive $5000, with another $2,500 for the high school. “This kind of recognition really supports what we do, so I would like to see the school put the money toward expanding our programs.”
Asked what she plans to do with her portion of the award, she says she’s not sure. Maybe travel.