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Education Grad Wins $10K Classroom Innovation Award

Teacher Nathan Strenge, class of 2009, and two colleagues at the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists strive to be innovators in the math classroom. Recently, their innovation paid off – winning them $10,000 for their school.

Solution Tree’s Redefining Excellence in the Classroom Award honors a team’s extraordinary efforts and contributions to a school and classroom. In addition to $10,000, Strenge's team receives a $200 credit to purchase Solution Tree materials for its school, along with two free registrations ($1,478 value) to the 2014 Professional Learning Communities at Work Summit in Phoenix, Ariz.

Strenge’s team realized the students at the charter high school face a challenge: They are budding performing artists with apathy for and fear of math. So the math department has taken the last two school years to revamp its approach. The changes have led to higher test scores and a love of learning.

Strenge explained in a three-minute video submitted with their entry.

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“One thing that we’ve really tried to do over the last couple years is make math more relevant and more fun for the kids,” he said. “What we find is when kids are coming in, they’re coming in with very low levels of interest in math. So before we could really push them into being really successful in math, we wanted them to have a vested interest in it. So we have a lot of application-based math, we make it interesting, we make it relevant to their lives, and so that’s really allowed us to go places we probably wouldn’t have been able to go without that.”

Strenge and his colleagues said in their entry essay that they highlight science as applied math, read and write math in English, and build number sense for informed citizenship and consumerism in social science. They also embrace technology with a class based entirely on Khan Academy, a curriculum of online videos and challenges, self-paced work and immediate data analysis.

Strenge graduated from Augustana as a mathematics and secondary education double-major and was nominated for Minnesota Teacher of Year in 2013.