When people pass Don Karlgaard's classroom at Brainerd High School, they see energetic students working together to solve mathematic problems.
Karlgaard's technique in teaching is one reason he was awarded the 2001 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. President Bush named Karlgaard as a recipient of the national award March 15.
Karlgaard, 51, was honored for this achievement last week in Washington, D.C. The five-day event included an awards ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and a congressional breakfast on Capitol Hill.
By earning this award, Karlgaard will receive a $7,500 grant from the National Science Foundation. This grant must be spent over a three-year period and be used to improve the mathematics program.
Karlgaard had to fill out a 12-page application for the award that included information about his teaching philosophy and his favorite lesson.
Karlgaard's favorite lesson is a 100-year-old theory about biorhythms.
This theory has students create three trigonometric equations that model physical, emotional and intellectual cycles that fit their life. When the cycles are mapped out it will determine how the individual is likely to feel as events occur, said Karlgaard.
"It's good mathematics," said Karlgaard. "It is interesting for students and it highly motivates them to see what it means to their life."
One student found that the biorhythm predicted his emotional side accurately Jan. 9. The student suffered a frustrating event and all of his emotions came to a head on this day.
Karlgaard said his classroom is not traditional. He never sits at his desk and the students are working in small groups to solve mathematical problems.
"I believe that each student's needs can be met within a dynamic small group," Karlgaard wrote in his application. "I am convinced that children can learn faster and in a more meaningful way in a cooperative group."
Karlgaard has been interested in teaching mathematics since high school.
"A new young teacher made an impression on me," said Karlgaard. "I wanted to be an engineer.
"I have always been good with numbers, but I like to see students learn, keep them interested and to build their confidence."
Karlgaard earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Moorhead State University in 1972 and his master's from St. Cloud State University in 1986.
He taught general mathematics, geometry and math analysis to ninth- through 12th-graders at Pipestone High School from 1972 to 1980. He then moved to Brainerd and taught ninth-graders at Franklin Junior High School for 12 years. In 1992 he transferred to the high school.
Karlgaard also worked for the Minnesota Department of Children, Family and Learning for 18 months. He helped develop mathematical assessments and worked on the Profiles of Learning.
"Keeping up with the latest research is important," he said. "Technology has changed more than anything. There are so many options."
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