The single most powerful influence in my life is a desire to help people learn. If there is a way to improve the learning process or better help my students, I will pursue it.
In the fall of 2009, my quest to better serve my students took me to China. I was part of a team seeking effective teaching methods for a new math education program at Matanuska-Susitna College. We discussed many issues; one of the most important, I believe, was the use of noted mathematician Georg Polya's problem-solving method. Since returning to the United States, I have worked to implement this teaching method into my own classroom. Instead of being based on a "teacher talks, student listens" philosophy Polya's method teaches students the tools they need to solve a problem, what method of solving the problem will be most effective and how to carry it out. In my classroom, the students and I engage in discussion, and we all work together. By practicing the material, students gain a more solid basis for the skill set we are developing together.
Coming into my classroom, students know that they can leave their stress outside the door. To ensure my students do not suffer from "test anxiety," I do not use tests as an assessment of their class grade. I use tests as an indication of student weaknesses in specific areas, and so I can help them to master the material. The biggest concern people seem to have about re-testing is that students will take advantage of it. I believe that re-testing gives students a chance to remediate their weaknesses and truly learn the material. It gives them a chance to gain confidence and allows them to like the process of finding the correct answers in mathematics. Their interest and enjoyment of finally being able to understand and master the skills are very rewarding, and it creates a relaxed learning environment.
This year, my focus has been to help students on the most basic level. While I have offered beverages and food to students for nearly 23 years, I am working to expand the idea to more than just coffee and Top Ramen. I hope that I can also encourage my students to enjoy healthier food. If students do not have their basic needs met, they are unable to learn. I want all of my students to succeed.
Outside of the classroom, I engage my students in many activities on campus. For example, I helped found the first on-campus Lions Club, which provides opportunities for students to work in the community. I also am the adviser for the college's math club. In addition to providing student tutoring, math club members raise money for scholarship funds and provide Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to needy families. By offering these types of programs for students to participate in, I hope that I am giving students a reason to like school and a desire to continue.
One of the most influential moments in my life was when a group of students founded the Dr. Ping-Tung Chang Scholarship Fund in my honor. I did not realize until that moment how much the students truly came to care for their educator. I have worked tirelessly to help secure endowment status for the fund in their honor. Now, many students are able to afford to go to college thanks in part to this scholarship.
Along with helping students on campus, I also work with high school students who are struggling with mathematics and often unable to keep up in a regular classroom. I also volunteer my services to help teachers better work with struggling learners. This volunteer work helps prepare the students for college and lets me interact with some really amazing people. It makes me very happy to help.
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