Teacher uses real-life problems to introduce math concepts to students

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BURGAW, NC (WWAY) — For many middle school students, formulas and theorems can be difficult to master but one Pender County teacher uses real-life problems to help her students understand the importance of learning math skills.

Because of her passion for math, we selected Burgaw Middle School teacher Sandra Jones as WWAY and Mattress & Furniture Liquidators’ Teacher of the Week.

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When we visited Jones’ seventh-grade class, students were using construction paper, scissors, tape and protractors to make a chicken coop. 

“We used a picture and got some real measurements to make a scale model of the chicken coop,” Jones said.

The day’s lesson centered around a fictional person named ‘Miss Loretta’ who lost her chicken coop during Hurricane Florence. Students had to use mathematical formulas to determine the amount of supplies necessary to build a new one.



A graduate of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, Jones has 12 years teaching experience and this is her third year at Burgaw Middle School. Over the years, she’s refined her formula for teaching.

“I started out teaching thinking that I was in charge,” she said. “It was all about me presenting, that kids would learn based on how I presented but I wasn’t connecting with my students.”

Over the years, Jones’ philosophy on teaching has changed.

“For me, everything I try to do is student-centered,” she said. “If it helps my students grow and understand math, I’m going to try it.”

Jones compares her students to plants in a garden.

“This is where they grow, this is where it happens and if the soil for them is not tended to, they’re not going to be able to grow very well,” Jones said. “They’re still going to grow but maybe not to their tallest potential.”

The thing Jones enjoys most is the potential of making a difference in the lives of her students like one girl years ago named Lydia.

“She tells me all the time that working with me helped her and when she talks about how I helped her, its almost like I was the only one who made a difference to her and I think — ok, I made a difference to at least one and she’s got a great life and that’s why I do it.”

Principal Jeff Swanson says Jones does a ‘fantastic’ job of not only mentoring new teachers at the school but also connecting with students on a personal level.

“A lot of it is enthusiasm, letting the kids know that she really cares about them, not just from 8 to 3 o’clock every day, but what goes on in their lives at home, what particular obstacles that they’re facing and even helping them problem solve about some possible things she can help them with, not just math related,” he said.

Swanson also said Jones makes the school a positive place for teachers and students.

“It makes my job as an administrator easier because within her grade level and throughout the school, she is setting a positive example for everybody,” he said.

On behalf of WWAY and Mattress & Furniture Liquidators, we are thrilled to recognize her as this week’s Teacher of the Week and to present a $100 gift card.

“I can’t tell you how many hours I spend outside of this classroom–out of my eight-hour day–just trying to think of opportunities for my students to think of ways to teach them real-life skills and I don’t get paid for that,” Jones said. “That’s ok because I’m choosing to be the teacher that I am and I think in the end it will pay off. I know that my community will be better for it.”

Whether its using math skills to build a chicken coop or solve some other real-life problem, Jones hopes her passion for math inspires her students to achieve their full potential.