Shelton teacher’s math lessons fun, creative for students

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Perry Hill School teacher Meghan Sullivan's innovative instructional style has brought her recognition as the school district's Innovative Teacher of the Month.

Perry Hill School teacher Meghan Sullivan's innovative instructional style has brought her recognition as the school district's Innovative Teacher of the Month.

Brian Gioiele / Hearst Conn. Media

SHELTON — Making math fun has made Meghan Sullivan popular among her students and respected among her peers.

The Perry Hill School math teacher has turned away from traditional methods of teaching tricks and tips for such lessons as dividing fractions and rounding numbers, focusing instead on creating games that help students solve problems and understand how the answer was achieved.

“I devote so much of my time to teaching … I love my job,” said Sullivan, who has taught math, science and social studies at Perry Hill School for the past eight years. “Teaching the kids is what makes me happy every single day. I love challenging the kids, and myself, to do better.”

Students rave about Sullivan’s style — and the district has also taken notice, naming her the Innovative Teacher of the Month for January.

"Meghan is an outstanding teacher … she has grown so much,” said Perry Hill School Principal Lorraine Williams about Sullivan. “She asks questions, she works tirelessly on her curriculum, all to make it better and more meaningful for the students.

“She is always engaged with her students … talking to them. She truly loves to explain the work to them and help them to better understand what they are doing,” added Williams.

During her presentation to the Board of Education last month, Sullivan said she began her career teaching all the traditional shortcuts to help students get answers quicker.

What she began to realize, she said, is that her technique only worked for the types of problems students were working on in the moment, and students could not apply the rules to other problems.

“I started to think about what I was asking my students to do,” said Sullivan.

This led her to start working with the school’s math specialist on more innovative ways to offer math instruction. The focus was placed more on understanding the methods in solving problems as opposed to the speed at which students formed the answers.

“I was asking them to understand why what they are doing works,” said Sullivan. “To do that, I had to change the ways I was teaching. The goal was to make students better problem solvers.”

Sullivan turned the focus to math games and technology to expand the lesson plan and get students to focus on delving into the problem-solving aspect of mathematics.

“We play different variations of games, depending on the unit,” said Sullivan. “Some of the most common ones include Tic-Tac-Toe, Bump!, Snakes, Trap It In and Squares. The content of the game changes as the unit does, but the students get familiar with each type of game. We have also been playing 24.”

She also has each student start a math notebook to keep their work and show off to their parents.

Gaining the students’, and parents’, trust was important, said Sullivan, because this was a step away from how most parents had learned math in their youth.

And the students’ reactions have been incredibly positive, she said. Each slide of Sullivan’s PowerPoint presentation to the Board of Education included quotes from students past and present.

The quotes ranged from “What I like about Mrs. Sullivan’s teaching is that when a student is on a problem and they don’t get it, she gives them a clue instead of giving the answer right away” to “What I like about Mrs. Sullivan is she won’t let us give up. She makes me understand what things mean” to “When I get to school, I look forward to this class.”

Sullivan said such feedback is powerful and drives her to continue to add innovation to her lesson plan.

“However the kids come up with the answer, they need to explain to me why and how,” said Sullivan. “There are many different strategies … they just need to demonstrate their method. Exploring and finding answers is more meaningful when they find it themselves.”