Making math matter

Catherine Kusik uses real world situations to make subject interesting

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Lakeview Elementary math teacher Catherine Kusik points to some information on the board during a presentation to her students. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood)

By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Catherine Kusik has the challenging task of teaching two subjects that students often find boring, but her way with students and her love of math and science help spark their interest.

“I feel like students can relate to science more than they can math. There’s a chance for more discussion just because it is a lot more interesting to students than math most of the time. We focus on real world situations in math, where we will use it and how we will us it,” Kusik said.

The 10-year teaching veteran started at Lakeview Elementary five years ago after her husband retired from the military. Kusik had been a coach and physical education instructor, but it wasn’t until she took a teaching job in Texas as a math teacher that she discovered a passion for the subject.

“My overarching goal (for math students) is that they will love mathematics and have a deep conceptual understanding. I strive to find entry points to the concepts that are adapted to each individual student,” she said. “Sometimes that can be challenging when you have 29 students in a classroom.”

Her students are meeting the challenge at their own pace and reaching even further to excel beyond their expectations.

“What I want for every student is to reach their maximum potential. As soon as they reach what they think their potential is, then we’ll increase that. I want to push them to be the best they can be. So, we’re never going to settle for anything in here. Sometimes parents don’t realize what they’re capable of. When a student comes to the meet parent-teacher night, and their parent tells me math was their worst subject and they’ve never been good at it, then a few months go by and that same parent is thanking me because their child is finally understanding math and loving it now…that makes my heart happy.”

Kusik also meets the needs of math students outside her own classroom. Between teaching classes, she has found a way to spend her passion for math as a tutor for Mathnasium, a tutoring learning center.

Her love for the subject and teaching also opened an opportunity to work with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Kusik and another teacher, Gena Barnhill of Putnam City Schools, wrote the fifth-grade math curriculum for the state. She also wrote the performance level descriptors for the ACT Aspire Test for fifth grade state assessment and helped determine the cut scores which divides students by achievement levels. The curriculum has been written in phases.

“The curriculum has been published but we are waiting for phase three to start,” she said.
Even though math is her favorite subject, Kusik enjoys the wonder of its closely related subject.

“Science and math go hand in hand,” she said. “The content is more engaging to students. It’s fascinating when you realize that without the systems of the human body, you don’t have a body and without the systems of the earth, you don’t have an earth.”

Her love for education is not only the subjects she finds so engaging, but the students in her care.

“Kids are fun. They say really interesting things and their personalities are all over the place. I enjoy watching them grow, especially in fifth grade because there’s so much personal growth and their personality develops so much. They go on to middle school and come back, and then you almost don’t recognize them,” Kusik said.

Teaching was always something she wanted to do.

“My mother is a retired educator and seeing her passion for this made me want to reach as many kids as I can. Education is to me more about a well-rounded education and not just math and science. Teaching them life skills like how to get along with each other even if you’re not best friends, pushing their chairs in, getting off a bus the right way and how to be respectful to teachers and each other…all those things are part of being an educator,” she said.