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  • Sonia Hamer

Paula Mathews: Flipping classrooms and bringing math to life

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Paula Mathews of Dripping Springs, TX believes in constant innovation to serve her students.

Handmade quilts decorate the walls of Paula Mathews’s classroom at Sycamore Springs Middle School in Dripping Springs, Texas. She makes them in her spare time, when she isn’t busy planning lessons, grading assignments, or helping students in tutorials.

“I like to help students make connections between the classroom and real life,” Paula says. “You know, that math has real-world applications.”

But that’s not the only thing Paula does for her students. Twelve years ago, she became her district’s earliest adopter of the flipped classroom model--a method of instruction that uses videos to move direct instruction from the group space of the classroom to an individual learning space. Paula made videos herself on lesson topics for students at home. Then, she used the in-class time to focus on solving example problems, applying concepts, and answering questions.

The result? Flipping her classroom “freed up more time for small, group discussion,” Paula says. “Before, the students had no time to practice. Every morning at tutorials my room was full.”

Now, Paula’s students can process concepts at their own individual rate, rewatch videos, and come to class prepared for a deeper discussion and exploration of the material.

Despite Paula’s success with the flipped classroom, however, she doesn’t allow herself to get complacent. “You constantly have to adjust what you’re doing,” Paula says. “I do something different every year.”

“I’m constantly changing, revising, trying new things. I’m constantly collaborating.” Paula continues. “I think that’s important for the students to see.”

Paula herself comes from a family of educators. “I was not going to be a teacher,” she explains. But, after obtaining a degree in mathematics from the University of Texas and working as a computer programmer for five years with an aerospace engineering firm, she found herself at a turning point in her career.

“I wasn’t fulfilled as a programmer,” she says. “You’ve got to love what you're doing.” And Paula loves teaching. After leaving her previous job, she went back to school and obtained her teaching certification. This year marks her 31st as an educator.

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