The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) program named Jennifer Baker, a math teacher at Hazelwood West High School, as one of 97 teachers selected as 2011 Presidential Awardees. PAEMST is the highest honor bestowed by the United States government specifically for K-12 mathematics and science teaching.
Awardees receive a certificate signed by President Barack Obama, a trip for two to Washington, D.C. to attend a series of recognition events and professional development opportunities and a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Baker and a guest are invited to Washington D.C. for this year’s three-day recognition program, which begins June 27.
“I am so amazed and overwhelmed,” said Baker. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education selected her as one of the state-level finalists last fall. “I am so excited that Hazelwood will be represented. I hope to represent Hazelwood well. I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Charlene Atkins and Melissa Livengood. These ladies were the other state-level finalists and are accomplished, dedicated teachers. I am humbled and honored to have received this award amongst such worthy candidates. I also want to re-emphasize the strong support the Hazelwood School District, teachers, students and parents have given me throughout the years. I am very grateful.”
Baker began her career with the Hazelwood School District as a junior high math teacher in 1985. She started teaching high school math eight years later and in the most recent school year, she taught Algebra II. She has experience teaching various levels of math, including college prep. She earned her National Board Certification in 2007 and is the past-president of the Mathematics Educators of Great St. Louis. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics education from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and a Master of Arts degree in instructional technology from Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and is certified to teach in grades six through 12. She credits her students from the 2010-2011 school year with helping her earn the award.
“I want to honor them by teaching my future students in a manner that inspires them to love math and understand how important it is for them to be continual learners their entire life,” said Baker. “I try to convey to my students how truly exciting and important math is.”
“On a daily basis, Ms. Baker demonstrates her commitment to the students of West High by incorporating a variety of lesson designs and leading the professional development within the math department,” said Dennis Newell, principal. “She uses the professional learning community model as a vehicle to initiate change in teaching practices and designs real life lessons incorporating technology. Her recognition, in conjunction with several other prestigious awards garnered by the math department at West High this past school year, represents the standard of excellence we aspire to so that we might maximize student achievement at Hazelwood West High School.”
“This year, I received the Fund for the Advancement of Mathematics Education (FAME) grant, which allowed me to purchase seven digital cameras, a color printer and extra ink,” said Baker. “We used the cameras all year for various activities. The students love to connect math with the real world. They would go on ‘field trips’ to find examples of functions we were studying around the school. We would then investigate these functions using the TI-84 calculators and the computer. I think my favorite activity was photographing the students’ palms and finding a quadratic curve and intersecting linear curves. They would overlay a graph and then regressively find the function. Afterward, I told them, ‘Now you know you have math with you always.’”
Baker was inspired to become a math teacher as a teenager. “When I was in high school, I had an amazing algebra teacher, Mr. Reed. He made math fun and applicable to real life. I feel he influenced me greatly in my love of math. In college, my mentor was an amazing math professor, Dr. Katie Pedersen, who encouraged me to become a lifelong learner and active participant in mathematics organizations. I still try to emulate her teaching methods.”
“Jennifer provides rich and diverse learning opportunities for her students to keep them interested and motivated,” said Cathy French, the District’s learning facilitator/math coordinator. “She used materials as simple as paper plates, which let the students build models to demonstrate and visualize angle sizes and relationships within circles. She provided instruction so that her students could use more complex geometry software to construct and investigate properties of geometric shapes and motion detectors to collect data on the height of bouncing balls or other movement.
“Jenny's commitment to educational excellence goes beyond her classroom,” added French. “She has served on many HSD math curriculum committees, providing her expertise in shaping the high school math courses. She is in high demand to present professional development on using technology in mathematics at the district, state and national level.”
"The Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching honors true leaders in math and science education," said Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris L. Nicastro. "We congratulate Ms. Baker on her commendable effort."
Nicastro added, "Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills are a critically important component of a student's education. These skills are preparing our future workforce to be able to compete in a global economy. Student success and economic prosperity starts with a solid educational foundation."
Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and leaders in the improvement of mathematics and science education. Teachers are either nominated by students, parents, colleagues, supervisors, or they may apply directly. Each teacher completes an online application that includes a written narrative and a video recording of their class in action that demonstrate teaching excellence.
Applications are reviewed at state and national levels by selection committees of outstanding scientists, mathematicians, education researchers, school and district administrators, and educators. Recommendations are sent to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) for final selection. NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) administers PAEMST on behalf of OSTP.
Established by Congress in 1983, this program authorizes the President to bestow up to 108 awards each year. Awards alternate between elementary (kindergarten – sixth grade) and secondary (seventh – twelfth grade) teachers each year. Since the program’s inception, nearly 4,200 teachers have been recognized for their contributions in the classroom and to their profession.