Inside Lisa Feltman’s fifth-grade classroom at Neubert Elementary, 25 students are split into small groups and given a problem to discuss and solve: There are four pizzas, but there are five people. How do they split the pizzas?
Feltman gave each of the students a paper plate, and had them use individual whiteboards to draw on so they could debate on how to evenly divide the pizzas. The lesson is about multiplying and dividing fractions.
She went to each group to check on their progress and ask questions to guide their thinking. Eventually each group shared how they got to the correct answer: Each person gets four-fifths of a pizza.
Feltman recently received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching by the National Science Foundation, and is slated to receive a $10,000 award and a trip to Washington, D.C.
She is in her 24th year of teaching. Feltman has taught at the Larkin Home for Children in Carpentersville, as well as several behavior disorder self-contained classrooms in District 300. She has been at Neubert Elementary since 2000.
Feltman recently spoke with reporter Joseph Bustos about her teaching style.
Bustos: How has teaching changed?
Feltman: When we grew up, time was the constant, learning was the variable. You started your textbook on day one, page one, and your teacher took that class as far as she could. And a really well-behaved class got further in the book than a not-so-well behaved class. That all changed when the learning standards came out in 1997. ... We had to get more creative on how to get more bang for our buck, because our time factor never changed. We still have our traditional agricultural calendar. ... You have to look for ways to integrate ... so they’re using a lot of skills all at once.
Bustos: Common Core is coming in. How has that changed how you teach?
Feltman: It reinforces how I teach. ... My buzzword for common core is integrated application for learning. If you want something to be meaningful, you hit from as many avenues as possible. Kids who hate social studies because they have to read about the different regions out of a textbook, and they’ve never been out of Illinois. It doesn’t mean anything. But if I bring in historical fiction, biographies and non-fiction in through literacy, I could recreate a simulation.
Bustos: I remember homework assignments growing up. You go home, and do problems one though 20 and come back with your homework assignment and your teacher checks it. Is that still what teachers do?
Feltman: Teachers are changing. There’s still a place for homework. What you saw in my classroom, was the incorporation of the mathematical practices. ... They’re interacting, they’re having learning conversations, they’re building on prior knowledge. They’re using their tools to figure things out. Even when they’re wrong, I didn’t tell them they were wrong. I asked them to explain what they were thinking ... they could use the wrong answer to lead them into a new direction. If I as a teacher stifle their thinking, then they become dependent on copying me. If I let them work through those errors to make sense of why they don’t work, they get closer to what does work.
Bustos: What I found interesting, is none of the students had the same way to get to the answer.
Feltman: Right, and that’s Common Core. ... The problem is traditional teaching is: teacher models, copy the teacher, gradual release of responsibility, and do it on your own. But it’s all about the teacher’s method. Well, my method isn’t the only way.
Bustos: What do you like to see from your students when you’re teaching?
Feltman: I love to see the lightbulb go off. I love to see that confidence grow through their smiles and the twinkle in their eye. I’m not one to spoon-feed my kids, so a little bit of struggle is good. But I’m there to support them and use questioning to help them.
The Feltman lowdown
Who is she? A fifth-grade teacher at Neubert Elementary in Algonquin.
Town: Lake in the Hills
Family: She and her husband, Mark, have three sons – Matthew, 18, Zachary, 16, and Joshua, 12.
Favorite food: Salad with grilled chicken.
Favorite thing to watch on TV: Lifetime movies and Law and Order.