Carolyn Cervantes teaches mathematics in the Deaf Middle School (DMS) At FSDB. Her classroom is bursting with colorful pedagogical aids and technology to help students grasp mathematics. Students in her classes are relaxed and comfortable and alternately joke around with her or pepper her with questions. She is an enthusiastic teacher, bending her form sometimes appearing like a ninja math teacher, which is no doubt partly attributable to her many years in dance!
How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Jacksonville. I was enrolled in a gifted program through my elementary school, where I was first exposed to American Sign Language (ASL) and visited FSDB on a field trip. From that point, I knew I wanted to learn ASL and work with deaf and hard of hearing individuals. In middle school, I found a love for math and knew one day I wanted to teach that subject. I met some friends in high school who were Deaf and joined their ASL club. I went to Flagler College, which I dreamed of attending since I was little. I graduated from Flagler with my Bachelor's degree in Deaf Education and Elementary Education and a minor in Mathematics. While at Flagler, I completed an 8-week internship under Matt Smith, who is an 8th-grade Math teacher in the Deaf Middle School. I am currently in my third year of teaching, and I was honored to be selected as DMS Teacher of the Year for 2019-2020.
What do you like about teaching math?
I love how everything I teach in 7th-grade Math can apply to real-life situations. For example, the students and I are currently learning about percentages and proportional relationships. We role play restaurant scenarios, and students are asked to calculate taxes, tips, and discounts. We also learn about probability and the likelihood of something occurring. I also like how visual math can be. Making concepts visual for my students are crucial to understanding. Math is also its own language. Often, it removes language barriers that our students face because they can still show their knowledge of math through numbers, visuals, and models.
Any exciting recent developments you want to share?
Math teachers in DMS are working with two fairly new curriculums, Eureka and Illustrative Math. Both are directly aligned to state standards. They have great resources and are both free online. I attended the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics (FCTM) workshop this past fall and learned about a program called Pear Deck through Google Slides. This program is excellent because it allows students to respond on their iPads through multiple choice, written text, and drawing “draggables." I am then able to display their answers anonymously on the SmartBoard for discussion. It is a great tool especially in math since it offers draggable (i.e., moving a point on a number line or coordinate plane) and drawing components.
Can you explain DMS team teaching and how that works?
This year, the math teachers in DMS team-teach to support struggling students. I join Donna O’Neill during the first period, and Matt Smith joins me during 3rd period. In Donna’s classroom, we often split up our students to teach different concepts simultaneously. Some students need intervention while others are ready to move on. When all students are on the same page, we take turns teaching the whole group while the other provides voice support to the students who benefit from it. Matt and I take turns teaching. In both teams, we are continually having conversations during planning time or lunchtime about how we should approach upcoming standards, how to help students who need intervention, and how to challenge students who are ready to move on. We are always reflecting on our own as well as each other's teaching strategies.