Lower School Math Specialist
It is not unusual for students of math specialist Julia Almaguer to find her watching their performance at a school event or open the mail to discover a vacation postcard or Christmas greeting card from her. "I really believe in connecting with every single student," she says. "I think it's critical. I think by connecting with those children, we both benefit. If they realize they are truly appreciated and they'll give me their best."
One of the few teachers in the country who have National Board Certification, Ms. Almaguer helped develop the new math curriculum for the primary grades and serves as an in-house consultant for teachers implementing it. She also meets individually with students who need extra help and supplies enrichment activities to those performing above grade level. As a teacher, she believes in the "constructionist" approach to learning – guiding students through the curriculum by letting them ask their own questions. Letting children "construct their own learning" caters to different learning styles and teaches critical-thinking skills that ultimately serve them well beyond the classroom.
Teachers must know the content thoroughly if they let children take control of how they learn, she says, and they have to know the content above the grade level they are teaching. If a student develops a hypothesis that works for one math problem, it may not work universally. The teacher has to know the difference and be able to challenge the student to prove it.
Lecturing in front of a class is not her style. "I don't think that leads to long-term learning, to critical thinking or enjoyment which I think is so important to the kids. I set up situations where they have to think, and they have to figure out. I provide them with materials and have them explore. There are so many ways to get the correct answer."
"I often won't tell a student if he's right or wrong. I say, ‘What do you think?' They get used to it. They get used to me very quickly."
Began Summit in 2007-08. Math specialist for first through sixth grades. Runs the Fourth and Fifth Grade Math Club. B.A, Duke University. M.Ed. Ohio State University. Ohio-endorsed gifted specialist. National Board certification.
She loves to read, work in her yard, make jewelry and play Luminosity Brain Games online. A Duke basketball fan, she grew up in Los Angeles and attended Marlborough High School, a private girl's school. She is developing a reputation of being a "health-food nut" but admits "every now and then I'll have a burger, so it's not a religion."