Education Technology

Meet TI Teacher of the Month: Ellen Browne

Posted 03/27/2018 by Kim Gonzales (@kimsgonzales)

We’re celebrating teachers, like you, who make a difference in the classroom on a daily basis. This month, join us in getting to know Ellen Browne, a high school math and engineering teacher who lives with 350 teenagers at the boarding school where she teaches. Oh, and she uses her violin to teach math. 

Fast Facts About Ellen:
  • TEACHES WHAT: Integrated math and engineering, 9th-12th grade 
  • TEACHES WHERE: Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut 
  • TEACHING FOR HOW LONG: 38 years 

Ellen in her own words:

Why did you become a teacher?

I know the exact moment that I wanted to be a teacher. In high school, I was asked to teach someone how to play the violin. I remember the lesson. I remember the student. I remember thinking, this is what I want to do, this is it. I am just as excited to teach 38 years later.

What advice would you give to your first-year teaching self?

Always be over-prepared and find out what your students need as you go along. Develop a means to figure out where they are, so you can alter your lessons based on what they understand. Have a plan, but be prepared to deviate with the end goal in mind. 

What do you love most about teaching?

My students. I love helping my students reach their goals. I also love watching my students’ faces light up when they have an aha-moment and get a concept we’ve been working on. 

What is most important to you about being a teacher?

"Connecting with kids. If you can connect with them, you could teach them to fly, if they were physically able."

Ellen Browne, TI Teacher of the Month

What TI technology do you use in the classroom and how do you use it?

I love using the TI-Nspire CX Navigator System in my class because I can send out a quick poll to figure out where my students are throughout each class and adjust as needed. We also use the TI-Nspire CX handheld, the TI-Innovator Hub and Rover. Honestly, I love getting my hands on whatever TI technology I can because it keeps the kids engaged and it helps them see math in real life. 

Recently I did a classroom activity with the TI-Innovator Rover, “Two Rovers Leave the Station…” as an introduction to my math class for systems of equations. Instead of teaching them the basics and then going to the word problem, I switched the class around. They got to see the Rovers in action and wanted to know how to solve the problem. We then talked about the system of equations and how to use the formula. It’s great when you have students asking, 'how do you do this?' and eagerly wanting to know the answer.

How do you help your students learn difficult concepts? 

I am willing to do just about anything within reason to help them. I’m not afraid to fall flat on my face if it doesn’t work. I do tons of research – books, Twitter, websites, asking colleagues – to find ways to help. I keep track of how students are doing each day. If I notice several of them aren’t getting a concept, I will change my lesson plan and bring in new materials and activities to help explain the same concept in a different way until they understand it.

What are fun or unique ways you teach your students?

By nature I’m a designer, I love designing lesson plans or things. I love anything that has open-ended answers because it changes students’ view that there is not always just one way to solve the problem.

How do you bring your love of music into the classroom?

I bring in my violin when we do music coding and when we talk about frequency. I also use it to teach students how to take notes. I ask them to take really careful notes while I play ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ so they can learn how to play it. We have a good discussion about if you want to be good at something – including math – it’s a combination of taking good notes and practice. 

What is the number one complaint you hear about math and how do you respond?

'When are we going to use this?' It’s like one word – 'whenarewegoingtousethis.' I ask them: Do you ever have to think? Do you have to reason through a problem? Do you have to use your critical thinking skills? I also apply it to other areas of their lives. For example, if you play sports, do you have to do jumping jacks as a warm-up to that sport? Yes. Do you ever use it in the game? No. But, it’s still important. I stress to them that you have to exercise your brain the same way you exercise for a sport – practice matters.