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Shannon Kennedy: Structure and attention to emotions break down math barriers

Year: 2020 — Province: Nova Scotia
Certificate of Achievement Recipient

Astral Drive Junior High
Math, grade 9
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

Shannon intrinsically believes in each of her students, and the students can feel her confidence in their abilities.


Shannon Kennedy refuses to let students' self-image define them as learners. Many adolescents think that if they are "bad at math," they are not smart. She helps them develop a growth mindset, celebrate their other skills and talents, and develop new strategies to succeed in math and other subjects. She also practises what she preaches, as she is constantly evaluating and enhancing her teaching practices.

Teaching approach

Shannon co-constructs her classroom expectations with her students. The daily routine is structured and predictable, which eases many students' anxieties. She also ensures families know what their children are studying, so they can ask questions, help with homework and reinforce concepts at home.

STEM in the classroom

  • Focuses on retrieval practice, building on brain-based research of Dr. Barbara Oakley, and takes a spiral approach to math: students continuously revisit knowledge they've already learned to reinforce a growing web of interrelated mathematical concepts.
  • Uses differentiation: gives some students extra practice through pencil-and-paper exercises, hands-on activities and digital experiences; offers enriched content for others preparing for International Baccalaureate studies.
  • Integrates STEM with other subjects, such as language arts and healthy living: for example, when researching mental illness, students are encouraged to include statistics and scientific explanations.
  • Tunes into students' emotions: knows students well enough to sense when they are having a bad day; offers praise or one-on-one support when needed; students feel valued, important, safe and understood, so they are more open to learning.

Outstanding achievements

  • Helped develop a school-wide problem-solving program: activities include puzzles, problem-solving lunches and math competitions; fosters logical reasoning, spatial awareness and more; students get "toolbox" of strategy sheets and are urged to try new or rarely used strategies.
  • Integrates large-scale multimedia class projects: within a broad subject, such as biotechnology, students choose a topic, such as stem-cell research, do research using blogs, videos and other sources, and present their findings via, for example, PowerPoints and concept maps.
  • Inspires some former students to pursue careers in education: she helps them pick courses, find leadership opportunities and set goals; they volunteer in her classroom; several have finished their teacher training, and she continues to mentor them.
  • Sends families detailed weekly emails: explains concepts currently being covered in class and includes links to supplementary resources; parents are very appreciative of this information.

Get in touch!

Astral Drive Junior High
238 Astral Drive
Dartmouth NS  B2V 1B8

Twitter: @adjhmustangs

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