'High-octane' teacher keeps kids motivated

Staff writer

Hillsboro High School math teacher Sharon Loewen enjoys the challenge of teaching upper-level math classes, like trigonometry and calculus.

“I love the mental exercise,” she said.

Transitioning to those high-level classes took some relearning in the mid-2000s, when she moved from middle school to high school math.

Loewen first taught from 1984 to 1987, then took a break for motherhood. She returned to the school setting in 1998 and to certified teaching in 2000.

She tries to show students practical applications for math skills, which helps them understand concepts. Sometimes that can be difficult, especially in algebra 2, she said. But concepts introduced in earlier classes are crucial to understanding advanced math.

Class with Loewen involves a lot of repetition, because time and practice are the surest ways to improve math skills, she said.

She uses an unconventional incentive to prepare students for standardized tests. Every day her students do two practice ACT problems, and correct answers are put into a weekly drawing for cookies.

“She prepares our kids at the highest level for state and ACT tests,” HHS Principal Max Heinrichs said of Loewen. “She is a high-octane teacher,” who teaches constantly from the beginning to the end of class.

That was evident in her Thursday trigonometry class. From the beginning of class, she worked through problems on the day’s assignment. All students in the class were involved.

Daily assignments are graded on a 15-point scale. Students receive 5 points for completing the assignment properly, 5 for being active in grading an assignment, and 5 for correcting mistakes. That takes pressure off the students at home, Loewen said, but students want to get as many right as they can so they don’t have to do many corrections.

Success in math requires two skills: the ability to understand what a problem is and the ability to then solve the problem. Without one, the other isn’t valuable, Loewen said.

Loewen teaches algebra 1.5, algebra 2, trigonometry, and calculus.

Last modified April 1, 2010