Passionate Oklahoma High School Math Teacher Ditches Textbooks

Despite Drumright, Oklahoma’s small population of fewer than 3,000 people, the local high school boasts one of National Public Radio’s 50 great teachers. National Merit Scholar Sarah Hagan joined the staff of the Drumright High School right out of college and kept her math textbooks in their boxes. Instead, she prefers innovative strategies that engage her students and make math fun.

Sarah has the students make their own textbooks starting with a blank composition book. She gives the students a lesson each day that is usually on colored paper. These lessons are not traditional math lessons, but rather require the students to cut, color, or draw on them and then glue them into their notebook.

This innovative teacher believes that students who are allowed to be creative are more likely to remember their lessons. Everything in the class is fair game to become part of a math lesson. Sarah has even been known to use loose spaghetti in this process.

No one expects speed dating in math class, but Sarah uses a similar strategy of having them move around the room every few minutes to practice specific lesson components as a way to engage her students as they learn polynomials. The lesson components include puzzles and other kinds of fast-paced exercises that cause them to learn algebra without realizing they are doing so.

All this fun has serious results as it prepares students to pass the state test in algebra, which is a high school graduation requirement. Sarah doesn’t fail her students. Their grade options are A, B, or Not Yet, as in they don’t quite grasp the concept yet. She has her students do exercises over and over until they finally get it, and is always there to support them.

Who would have expected such innovative and successful teaching strategies in an under-funded classroom that didn’t even have a dry-erase board? Sarah’s class is now a riot of color and math games all designed to further inspire her students in their efforts to learn this once-dry subject.