Williams Lake math educator Sylvia Swift is one of only 54 recipients to receive a prestigious national teaching award.
Nominated by colleagues, Swift learned she was awarded one of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence last week and said the secret to her success has been taking the time to figure out where students’ minds are going.
“Assess first, then teach. If we are so busy telling all the time then we’re not hearing where they are coming from.”
The Prime Minister’s awards honour outstanding and innovative elementary and secondary school teachers who instil a love of learning and who utilize information and communications technologies (ICT) to better equip their students.
There were 22 winners from B.C.
Swift said she loves using technology and “our innovative new world” to help students access information.
“Today many teachers are moving from knowledge-based learning to help students process skills that help them find the right information,” she explained.
She recalled encouraging a Grade 2 student who wanted to learn about wind to access information on an iPad.
“By using a kid’s search he located a video that had high and low resolution, mapping and imagery,” she recalled.
The student, who she admitted was a strong reader, then produced a powerpoint presentation he shared with the district’s education committee at its annual meeting.
When Swift was nominated for the award last spring she was teaching a class of 15 Grade 2 to 6 students in the year-round calendar program at Cataline Elementary School.
“I had to put my students into small guided math groups so I could analyze where they were at,” she explained. “It’s all about breaking down who is having misconceptions about how math works.”
Swift uses concept specific games, manipulatives, paper work, and “games, games, games.”
Swift credited Big Lake elementary school principal Judy Vanderzwan, Cataline Elementary School vice-principal Hattie Darney, a group of math teachers and superintendent Mark Thiessen for nominating her for the award.
Her colleagues praised her for being on the “cutting edge” of introducing technology to peers in the district, at school, as well as her students.
“She organizes and attends many workshops to create a more technologically savvy workplace and has even created a class website for her students,” Vanderzwan wrote.
Swift left a career in theatre to pursue an education degree at UBC at age 29, after spending a year nannying for a friend and realizing she loved children.
She arrived in the Cariboo-Chilcotin in 1993 to work as a teacher and later principal at Anahim Lake, and has taught in Merritt, 150 Mile House and at Cataline Elementary School.
This year she became math leader for the district, has an office at Nesika Elementary, and leads a cohort of 23 teachers.
As for theatre, Swift has come full circle. She’s an active member of Williams Lake Studio Theatre and is presently rehearsing for the upcoming production of The 39 Steps.