Teacher has a gift for making math add up

By Jennifer Buske
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Woodbridge Senior High School freshman Tina Warner said math never came easily to her, until a unique teacher sent her in a new direction.

After failing the math Standards of Learning test last year and seeing her grades slip, Tina said it took educator Sharon Dravvorn and her somewhat unusual teaching techniques to help her turn things around.

"I was so surprised when I had an A in this class at first and now a B," the 14-year-old said. "This has never happened before in a math class. She is easier to understand because of the way she teaches, and her attitude is different. Some teachers are here just to get through the day, but she really cares."

Tina, along with some of her classmates, said Dravvorn's teaching methods include quirky sound effects and classical music. Dravvorn thinks outside the box, they said, and that is why it came as no surprise when the 19-year educator received a $25,000 award from the Milken Family Foundation during a school assembly last week.

Dubbed the "Oscars of teaching," by Teacher magazine, the Milken Educator Award went to 54 teachers across the country this year. The awards are meant to recognize high school and elementary teachers who promote excellence and innovation in public education, a news release from the Virginia Department of Education said.

"We're proud of all our teachers and especially proud of Sharon for receiving this well-deserved award," Woodbridge Principal David Huckestein said. "She is an outstanding, amazing teacher and individual who has all the attributes of a great educator."

A product of the Prince William County school system, Dravvorn returned to teach in the community after attending James Madison and George Mason universities. With an interest in math, Dravvorn gravitated to teaching the students who struggled with the subject, picking up classes filled with those who had failed the eighth-grade math SOL test.

"Teaching is gratifying, but teaching this population is very rewarding," Dravvorn, 42, said. "I like to help them believe in themselves. . . . These guys have a bigger road to travel, and I enjoy taking that journey with them."

Dravvorn said she studies the SOL test scores before students return to school so that she can plan classes around students' needs.

She is also known to pull out some unusual teaching techniques to get her messages across. Dravvorn uses classical music to calm down students and goofy eye tricks to get them to focus on problems on the board. Hands-on activities are a must in her classroom, she said, along with sound effects that she associates with various math procedures.

Educators and students say her teaching methods have paid off. In 2008, Dravvorn helped all of the students who took her course pass the SOL.

"Making sounds to an equation helps me remember how to do it," Woodbridge Senior High freshman Marvin Manzanares said. "She also takes her time teaching. In middle school, they would explain it once and move on. Here, if you don't understand, she'll put you in front of the class until everyone gets it."

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