Megan Lawson has undergone a conversion. She was never a good math student. She didn’t particularly enjoy teaching math when she started in the classroom 10 years ago. Today, she is the 2017 Outstanding Elementary School Mathematics Teacher for Lenoir County Public Schools.
“It was not a good subject for me,” said Lawson, a kindergarten teacher at Pink Hill Elementary School for the past five years. “It’s my favorite subject now.”
What changed her mind – and focused her career – was her participation in the three-year Lenoir STEM Math Symposium, a cooperative effort of LCPS and East Carolina University to help the district’s elementary and middle school teachers look beyond the formulas and make math relevant for students. Lawson came out of that summer workshop as a member of the district’s Math Leadership Team.
“I knew math was an area I struggled in, so I signed up,” she said of the symposium. “It completely changed the way I viewed math as such an outside subject that just belongs to itself. In using number talks and math talks, you can really open up math to any student at any time, at any place. It’s such a unique way for students to converse with one another.”
Here’s where the walls that separated math from pretty much everything else came tumbling down for Megan Lawson and her students. “Whenever we’re learning to talk about math with one another, using respectful discourse, I’m also seeing that transfer into other areas like literacy and writing and also in their daily routine,” she said. “Whenever there is a problem to be solved, they are using those mathematical discourse skills to converse with one another.”
Naturally, math in kindergarten begins with the basics. “We start with numbers zero to five and we start introducing them to that number talk and that mathematical discourse because if we get that down that really helps our lessons to flow,” Lawson said. “Sometimes, I’ll start a lesson with one goal in mind and a student will make a comment and I’ll understand that either there’s a misconception here or they’ve really got this and we need to move on to something new.”
Math yields a “right” answer, yet thinking there’s only one right way of finding it is wrong is Lawson’s world – and in her classroom.
“Just because you see something in a different way doesn’t means it’s wrong; it’s just different,” she said. “That’s what I really hope to pass on to my students, to help them get that courage to be different, to think in a different way and to also be respectful and to accept others’ differences, to learn from them.”
The district award recognizes this inclusive attitude, according to Pink Hill principal Lee Ann Hardy, who nominated Lawson for the honor. “She does an outstanding job in the classroom in teaching in nontraditional ways and she’s been a big part of math training the district does with teachers,” Hardy said. “She’s working with her classroom, then she’s working outside the building too, sharing her techniques.”
The award, given by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics, will be presented to Lawson at the group’s annual conference in Greensboro in November.
“It’s very humbling to get that award,” she said. “I also think it comes with a lot of responsibility. I really want to help share the wonderful opportunity I’ve had to learn from some wonderful people. I want every teacher to have that ‘ah-ha’ moment with math.”
Already, Lawson has helped write the district’s K-8 math curriculum guide and this summer she and teacher Melissa Manning of Contentnea-Savannah K-8 School worked with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction to develop a state math guide for kindergarten.
Lawson, a native of Duplin County who now lives in Kenansville with her husband, Nephi, and their three children in Kenansville, earned her bachelor’s in elementary education from Fayetteville State University and taught kindergartners in Fayetteville for five years before joining the Pink Hill faculty five years ago.
She recently earned an elementary math add-on license from East Carolina University. “My goal is to continue and finish up my master’s in math education for K-5,” she said. “I wouldn’t have said this about four years ago.”
Her enthusiasm must be as contagious as her teaching methods are effective. In a recent survey designed to identify some of their likes and dislikes, her students were asked about their favorite subject in school. “About 80 percent of my students picked math,” she said, a big smile in her voice.