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An 8th grade algebra teacher who never uses textbooks or assigns homework will share her passion for helping students understand math - and for trying new teaching methods - during the 12th annual Marvin Stokes Endowed Lectureship Monday [OCT. 27] at East Central University.

Heather Sparks, the 2009 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, will speak at 6:30 p.m. in the Estep Multimedia Center on the first floor of the University Center. Her presentation is open to the public at no charge. Area Teachers of the Year for 2007-08 also will be recognized during the evening.

Sparks teaches Algegra I and Pre-Algebra at Taft Middle School in Oklahoma City.

She will discuss "Walls or Windmills: Effectively Addressing Educational Change." Her topic is based on a Chinese proverb which says that when the winds of change come, some people build walls while others build windmills.

"Windmills are a more effective way to manage change," she said.

And change in education is coming quickly, she added, pointing to a report issued by the National Center on Education and the Economy. The report says one reason the United States is falling behind economically is because our educational system is falling behind other countries. It recommends a number of changes in America's educational system.

"It suggests a 10-prong approach," Sparks said. "One of the recommendations is early childhood education, and Oklahoma is doing very well in that area."

The report also says that the majority of students around the world are now ready to go to college at age 16.

"We need to reframe education so that kids are more engaged in key curriculum," Sparks said. "We need to meet more of students' needs and get rid of math phobics. Most teachers teach the way they were taught, and so many kids don’t get it."

About 90 percent teach with a traditional approach using textbooks, she said.

"We're about to turn the corner on pen and paper," she said. "Today we say that children are born with computers in their hands. We're so closed-minded as adults," she added.

Once she shows teachers her methods, "they say it’s so much fun."

Sparks has 15 years of teaching experience and has taught all subjects at all levels, giving her a perspective other teachers may not have. She planned to major in music performance at Oklahoma City University, then changed to music education. She changed her major again to early childhood education after observing an early childhood teacher in the classroom.

She also learned from watching her own children over the years.

"I’ve always been a holistic, hands-on teacher," she said. "I’ve never used textbooks."

When she walked into her math classroom at Taft Middle School three years ago, the first thing she did was get rid of desks placed in tidy rows. She bought tables with her own money to get the students together and talking.

"Junior high kids are social creatures," she explained. "They like to talk."

Instead of working problems in textbooks, she has them learn equations by looking at cell phone bills - how the companies charge for text messages and other services, for example.

"We do scatter plots by looking at newspaper ads for Mustangs, things that kids really are into. We plot the cost of Mustangs. We work on concepts in real-life time.

"They love math when they leave," she said.

They don't have homework but they do have a 100 percent pass rate on their End of Instruction test, which they have to pass in order to graduate.

Sparks also has a master of elementary education degree from OCU and earned National Board certification. She received the 2007 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. She also has been a trainer for Oklahoma Schools Attuned, a statewide initiative to train teachers on understanding and managing differences in how students learn.

Area Teachers of the Year for 2007-08 who will be recognized are Bonnie Beadles, Pauls Valley; Mary Maxine Estes-Magby, Lindsay; Kathy Evans, Ada; Belinda Hunt, Whitebead; Tammy Johnson, Davis; Sandi Lawrence, Latta; Brandon Dewayne Leslie, Bowlegs; Yvonne Philpott, Wewoka; Brenda Roberts, Wanette; Phillip R. Scott, McAlester; Linda Strunk, Coalgate; Gaylene Thompson, Sasakwa; and Kimberly Wilson of Konawa.

The Stokes Lectureship was established to recognize Marvin Stokes' distinguished career in education. Stokes, who died in 2005, was a lifelong educator and long-time superintendent of Byng Schools. He was an ECU Distinguished Alumnus and a member of the Oklahoma Educators Hall of Fame.

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