- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 31, 2016

PENDLETON, Ind. (AP) - Pizza is important in Darin DeNeal’s seventh-grade math class at Pendleton Heights Middle School.

Not so much for eating, but because it’s a practical way to engage 13-year-old minds about how the science of numbers affects their daily lives.

The lesson might typically begin with this question: Is a 16-inch pizza twice as large as an 8-inch pizza, or four times larger?

Many adults reading this might say it’s twice as large because 8 + 8 = 16. Right?

But students in DeNeal’s class would be able to tell you why that answer is wrong.

One 16-inch pizza has roughly the same area as four 8-inch pizzas. Why?

Because a pizza is a circle, and the area of a circle increases with the square of the radius.

Then, DeNeal has students evaluate the pizza-value question by comparing the cost of toppings.

Pizza stores offer a lot of combinations. Or, you can “build your own” by buying just the toppings you prefer.

This is nearly always more expensive, because as you add toppings the cost can quickly exceed a given combination price.

Applying these math skills to real-world situations are just several reasons DeNeal was named the secondary school winner of the Max Beigh Enriching Education Award conferred on top Madison County educators by the Anderson Noon Exchange Club.

While it isn’t always possible to use examples like the cost of pizza as a math teaching aid, “I try to make it as fun as I can,” DeNeal, 34, said in an interview.

Many students arrive in class at the beginning of the year dreading the math challenges that lie ahead.

“The first nine weeks of class I’m really a salesman,” DeNeal said. “There is a lot of critical thinking and that’s not easy for them.”

One of DeNeal’s key teaching techniques is having students defend the how and why of their mathematical conclusions. That doesn’t always yield the “correct” answer to a given math problem, but it does help DeNeal do a more effective job of guiding students about how to get correct answers, he said.

DeNeal’s parents, both of whom are teachers, tried to dissuade him from pursuing a teaching career. He enrolled in Purdue University planning to become an engineer.

“They wanted me to go off and change the world,” DeNeal said.

While a student at Purdue, however, he was director of a program called Teaching Engineering Applications to Motivate Students, or T.E.A.M.S., a program where he and others worked in classrooms teaching hands-on science and math lessons.

“When I realized I was spending more time preparing and teaching these lessons and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it, I knew I wanted to do it every day and become a teacher,” DeNeal said in his nominee interview sent to the Max Beigh Award evaluating committee.

Daniel Joyce, principal of Pendleton Heights Middle School, said DeNeal enriches the lives of teachers and students as both a teacher and a leader. He coaches eighth-grade football and also sponsors the school’s anti-drug use club, AIM.

“He strives to make math real and understandable to his students and routinely provides opportunities for students who are struggling to see him for extra help in mathematics on his own time,” Joyce added.

Many other teachers wrote testimonials on McNeal’s behalf that were sent to the Noon Exchange Club.

DeNeal said he was surprised and humbled to be selected for the Max Beigh Award.

“I like to think of myself as a good teacher,” he said, “but I don’t think I’m the best teacher in this building.”

Members of the Noon Exchange Club created the Max Beigh Award last year.

Beigh dedicated his life and professional career to education, counseling, and improving the lives of children and young people beginning in 1937.

He joined the Exchange Club and maintained his membership for 61 years, upholding the club’s dedication to preventing child abuse in Madison County.

Beigh was a graduate of Claypool High School and Manchester University. After graduation he taught and counseled students at Anderson High School for many years.

He actively participated in the creation of the award that bears his name. But he died at the age of 100 in April 2015, shortly before the first award recipients were announced.

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, https://bit.ly/1X8zUus

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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