Mathematics teacher Dr Michelle Dalrymple knows her subject isn’t every student’s first choice, but bringing her dogs into the equation certainly helps.
The Christchurch teacher uses videos of her bullmastiffs Cornelius and Daisy to get her points across, showing how complicated classroom principles work in the real world through home-made clips with her pets.
Dalrymple has won the 2019 Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize, the first mathematics and statistics teacher to nab the premier teaching award at a live-streamed event of the Prime Minister’s Science Prizes on Tuesday. Burnside High School student Thomas James was also recognised as the country’s leading future scientist.
The Cashmere High School faculty head said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, taking up a job at the popular school 16 years ago after completing her degree at the University of Canterbury.
“It’s so important that students feel safe and cared for and trust me, and know that I will never give up on them … I can’t expect them to take risks to make mistakes and push themselves unless that relationship has been formed.”
She films her dogs to demonstrate concepts liked random sampling, sometimes using her pigs Marilla and Dorothy as case studies for example questions.
“It’s just bringing a bit of myself to the classroom I guess, if they finish an apple I’ll grab the apple core to take home for the pigs which is always a laugh.”
A photograph of Cornelius was her laptop screensaver, meaning he was “always in the room”, and both dogs popped up to say hello in streamed lessons and staff meetings during lockdown, she said.
The “power” of statistics was in being able to tell the stories behind the data quickly and easily, she said.
Dalrymple was devoted to sharing her research and knowledge with other teachers around the country, nominated for her cutting-edge research, originality and creativity.
For students who struggled, she built their confidence by moving “away from the classic picture of a math classroom”. Shifting away from the stereotype encouraged each student to succeed by aligning with different learning styles, she said.
Cashmere High School principal Joe Eccleton said Dalrymple being named a finalist was “huge” for the school.
“As a school community we are so proud of her achievements and we are very fortunate to have her leading our Mathematics faculty,” Eccleton said.
She was a “brilliant” teacher and colleague, he said.
“First and foremost she believes in the potential of our young people and providing them with the very best platform to be at their best.
“While academic outcomes are important to Michelle, this does not define her success as a teacher and leader of mathematics. She uses mathematics as a vehicle to inspire and excite our students towards life-long learning.”
Dalrymple said she took inspiration from late educator Rita Pierson, and has brought overseas mathematics experts to New Zealand, run training workshops and regularly shares teaching ideas, lesson plans and interactive videos on her blog.
She’s well known in her field, having already been the recipient of two fellowships, including the Endeavour Teacher Fellowship in 2014, is affiliated to several national and international mathematics teacher bodies and on the International Data Science in Schools Project.
The $150,000 prize will go towards the rebuild of Cashmere High School’s mathematics and statistics block.
Other prizes bestowed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were to University of Auckland lecturer Miro Erkintalo, who took the emerging scientist prize.
The science award went to a group of Kiwi scientists behind the break-through discovery that Antarctica’s melted ice sheets could have a significant impact on global sea level rise, and the communicator prize went to Waikato University professor Rangi Matamua.
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