There’s no shortage of good teachers in northwest Winnipeg.
On Weds., Nov. 20, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the recipients of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Awards for Teaching Excellence. Among the 60 Canadian educators honored, four work in the city’s north, including Marie Zorniak from St. John’s High School and Kenneth Gordon from Sisler High School.
Gordon teaches pre-calculus and calculus mathematics for Grades 11 and 12 at Sisler, where he’s developing a disproportionately high number of math whizzes.
"We have an accelerated math program at Sisler," said Gordon, who attended the high school growing up.
"They (the students) finish their Grade 12 math by the end of Grade 10. That’s when I pick them up and we work towards challenging the University of Manitoba calculus.When they graduate from high school, they get two credits in U of M calculus.
"We’re the only school in the province that does this, and in the last 12 years that I’ve been doing this, 95% of my students have gotten an A or an A+ in calculus."
In his classes, Gordon uses a mathematics software program called Geometer’s Sketchpad. He described the program as a "word processor for math" and said it can be used at any level, from kindergarten to post-secondary math.
"I’ve been working with it for five or six years now, and in that time I’ve managed to become connected with the creators of the program in the States and they’ve actually brought me on board as a consultant," Gordon said.
"It’s the best thing for teaching mathematics. We had a new curriculum come in the last four years, and there was a unit in the Grade 11 course the kids really struggled with the first time I taught it. The second time I went through it, I created a Sketchpad lab where the kids would do a hands-on activity to explore more deeply what they were supposed to be learning, and the marks in that particular unit for that class jumped by 10%."
Zorniak currently teaches English language arts, social studies, math and science to Grades 9 to 11 at St. John’s. Like Gordon, she’s teaching at the same school she once attended.
"Many things are the same as when I went to school. It’s always been a less than affluent area, however the diversity just makes it so unique," said Zorniak, who has been teaching since 1991.
Zorniak tries to capitalize on that diversity in her teachings.
As co-chair of the Red River Heritage Fair, Zorniak is heavily involved in living history and encourages her students to participate. She also holds student-organized Canadian citizenship ceremonies and an annual diversity program.
"One particular year we went to a mosque, a synagogue and an Aboriginal centre," Zorniak said. "We really broke down barriers of not knowing about other people’s culture. We dealt more with the similarities rather than differences.
"The culmination for that particular program was this multicultural dinner, and it was a huge celebration."
Leigh Brown of Children of the Earth High School and Lee Van Cauwenberghe of École Stanley Knowles School also won PM’s Awards for Teaching Excellence, but couldn’t be reached by press time.