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Young Achievers: Fresh from being student, teacher offers tips to achievers

1st-year teacher receives Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship, returns to alma mater

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  • 5 Tips for parents

    •  Ask students about specifics of their day: ‘What was your favorite part of the day?’

    Parents should also ask to see grades on assignments/progress reports. Show students you care about how they are doing in school.

    •  Ask teachers for parent updates. (Samantha Freiberg sends weekly email updates that include what students are studying, upcoming quizzes/tests and when they should expect progress reports).

    •  Support STEM-related extracurriculars.

    Extracurriculars are important because they are a motivation to come to school. It is important to celebrate and praise students for their successes (both academic and non-academic).

    •  Have a designated study place at home.

    Some homes can be loud and chaotic. Many students benefit from having a quiet room to do work/study.

    •  Encourage study groups! Student study groups are efficient and free.


  • 5 Tips for kids

    •  Grill your teacher with good questions.

    •  Dig up a related subject that interests you.

    •  Go to tutoring!

    •  Binder: Mandatory. Find a way to organize your assignments and notes.

    •  Don’t go it alone: Form study groups.



Samantha Freiberg graduated from East Mecklenburg High in 2007. Now, she’s back on campus as a first-year math teacher in the school’s International Baccalaureate and Middle Years programs. This spring, after earning her Master’s in Education in secondary math education from Wake Forest, she received a $175,000 Knowles Science Teaching Fellowship – a five-year fellowship that includes professional and leadership development, teaching tools and materials, and access to a nationwide network of professionals. The award is reserved for math and science teachers at the start of their careers.

Before teaching her own class, she said, she received advice from everyone. The one tidbit she takes with a grain of salt: Don’t smile until December, so your students will respect you. “I appreciate advice ... but I just want the students to feel good about themselves,” she said with a smile.

Here, she takes what she’s learned as a student and new teacher and offers five tips for students tackling what have become known as the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) – though these tips can surely help anyone.

Grill your teacher – with good questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions in class, Freiberg stresses. She notes that the math and science skills that are taught in classrooms today come from people who have asked and sought answers to questions in the past.

Freiberg said she also enjoys when her students challenge her and try to stump her on math questions.

“If they can catch a mistake that I made in working a problem, then I know that they understand what I have taught,” she said.

Dig up a related subject that interests YOU.

Teachers face the challenge of teaching a wide variety of content in a short amount of time, Freiberg said. Because of the time crunch, she encourages students to spend time outside of the classroom researching topics they wish to learn more about.

“We live in the digital age and I know that most of us (myself included) are constantly using some form of technology. Cell phones and computers can do more than just facilitate communication with friends and family – they can open up the world to us.”

She tells students to spend 20-30 minutes researching a topic that excites them. She once spent an evening researching sea horses, just because. What she learned: A baby sea horse is called a fry.

“Maybe you want to know why everyone is talking about global warming. Maybe you are interested in ways to reduce your impact on the environment, or maybe you want to know why fractals are so aesthetically pleasing. Find something that sparks your interest.”

Students can then make connections between their interests and schoolwork.

“STEM connections are all around us all the time. If you are interested in sports or the arts or humanities, you can find a connection to what you are learning in school.”

Go to tutoring!

Teaching 90 students per day, Freiberg said, can make it difficult to cater to every student’s needs.

The best way to receive one-on-one instruction is to meet teachers after school, or find a tutor, she said. “If you are struggling in a STEM class, this individualized help can make all of the difference. In tutoring, your teacher will be able to address your specific questions and misconceptions at your pace.”

Tutoring with a teacher allows students to mention their interests and talk more about learning styles.

Binder: Mandatory.

Organization is key to success in high school, college and in a career, Freiberg said.

“I have seen many bright students struggle because they do not have the organization skills necessary to keep up with their notes and assignments.” She requires her students to purchase a three-ring binder with dividers to organize their schoolwork. After she grades papers, she punches holes in them and returns them to students to place in their binders.

“Students who keep a neat and organized binder can find their homework and notes much more easily than students who have crumpled papers in the bottom of their backpacks. If this organization system does not work for you, then find one that does.”

The more the merrier: Don’t go it alone.

This bit of advice is how Freiberg survived college math.

“Math is very difficult to learn on your own,” she said. “Having a group of people to discuss math with can facilitate better understanding of the content, build confidence, promote the use of math vocabulary and can develop communication skills that are essential in a math class.”

She mentions that communication is part of the new Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practices, so all math teachers will be emphasizing teamwork.

Penland: 704-358-6043; Twitter @BrittanyPenland
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