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Educator Spotlight: Math Educator Chris Poisella

Introduction: We are excited to continue our popular Educator Spotlight series, and also to expand it to feature both classroom and office educators who are the heart of Gibbons. In doing so, we offer readers a glimpse of how Gibbons educators care for and engage with students, forming them as men and women of faith, service, and leadership in church and community. So far this year we have spotlighted counselor Susan Ellis, Latin educator Whitney Crabbe, Director of Classroom and Educator Tech Support Rodolfo Argueta, and English educator Amy Rokita. Today we spotlight Math educator Chris Poisella.

One-on-one session with student in math class.


It’s an impactful formula: Take high-achieving math students, group them in twos and threes, ask them to review for a test using their notes, and watch the collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving begin.

Chris Poisella working with a group of students in math class.

That’s precisely what was happening in Chris Poisella’s fourth-period precalculus honors class on a recent Thursday morning. After a prayer and short introduction, Poisella steps out of the spotlight and empowers his students to teach one another in what he describes as a math lab, aka group assessment.

 “When students can explain or teach a concept to others, it deepens their own understanding,” notes Poisella, a Gibbons educator for 24 years.  And teach they do.

Armed with calculators and pencils – pens for the brave few – students work on graphing trigonometric and inverse trigonometric functions. Meanwhile, as Poisella walks around the room,  moving from one group to another, the baseball coach within emerges as he encourages,  advises, and yes, coaches, students to their eureka moment.

“When students can explain or teach a concept to others, it deepens their own understanding,” notes Poisella, a Gibbons educator for 24 years.  And teach they do.

At the end of class, the hope, notes Poisella, “is that students will be able to graph and understand the graphs of trigonometric functions.”

Students working together in math class.

With their deepening understanding come fist bumps, high fives, and ear-to-ear grins. There are also lots of conversations, discussions, and debates.

It also is common to see a student approach Poisella for one-on-one think sessions during which he provides helpful hints and encouragement.  Minutes later, the student returns to the group ready not only to meet the challenge but also to help classmates work through those pesky, hard-to-decipher problems.

The formula Poisella uses in his class rewards students for attentive listening, careful note-taking, and a deep understanding of the lessons leading up to the test. It also capitalizes on students’ collective skills and resources and, in turn, enhances interpersonal relationships and oral communication.

Chris Poisella with student in precal class.

At the same time, it reduces some students’ anxiety over testing because it assesses what they know without the stress of a test. For others, the lab makes them more comfortable with the material going into the test. Additionally, the work done during the lab is a significant part of their grade for the quarter.

What it all adds up to is this, collaborative learning + an effective teaching strategy = students shared academic achievement.


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