By Anna Skinner
Westfield Middle School teacher Kelly Day broke the record when she was the youngest teacher ever to receive the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching and only the second from Indiana.
Then she traveled to Finland for five months for educational research and was one of only four to return to Washington, D.C. to present her findings.
Day’s findings? Why Finland was one of the few countries with girls outscoring boys in mathematics.
Day submitted a research proposal to the U.S. Dept. of Education which was then selected, honoring her with the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. When she traveled to Finland, she carried out her research plan, hoping to bring knowledge back to the U.S. on why girls outscore boys in mathematics.
“I wanted to go see what Finland was doing to promote female achievement in mathematics,” Day said. “The biggest take-away I got from Finland is sometimes less is more. I’m trying to be more selective in what I’m teaching instead of trying to teach everything by really focusing on the important aspects and giving kids more trust and freedom in their academic choices.”
Day wrote a blog post on the subject of less is more, which went viral, being visited more than half a million times and shared more than 200,000 times. Day returned from Finland to continue teaching, implementing her new strategies into the classroom.
“I think we need to focus our standard in math curriculum. We have a tendency to go a mile wide, and I think we should focus our topics and go deeper,” Day said, giving the example of how she teaches an economy unit where kids handle math and travel by picking the countries they want to visit and creating a travel plan.
Day said she travels a lot and often times brings back different currencies to have her students convert them into U.S. Dollars.
While in Finland, Day’s viral post, “11 Ways Finland Teaches Us Less is More,” was published in the South Australian Journal and also translated into Korean.
In addition to the presentation of her findings in D.C. in August, Day will travel to an event in San Francisco in November—the Fulbright Great Mind Conference. She will present on “building a pipeline for females in STEM.”
Day is also attempting to bring in some Fulbright teachers from Botswana, currently at Indiana University, to speak to her students.
But Day isn’t the only one proud of her findings. Her seventh grade students appreciate them, too.
“Math is not usually my strong suit, but this year it has been really fun, and I like it a lot better than last year,” seventh grader Jamie Helms said. “She has a lot of games, and it’s always fun with her because you’re not always writing notes which is nice. She makes us focus and lets us have fun with it.”
Many of the students explained that their favorite lesson was when they learned about math properties through a game similar to musical chairs, because it kept them up and moving around.
“I don’t want to get sucked back into the race of always getting more, and sometimes more, more, more is creating stressed out students with high levels of anxiety, or they give up,” Day said.
Meet Kelly Day
Hometown: Crawfordsville, Ind.
Hobbies: Traveling and exploring, writing
Education: Undergrad from Indiana Wesleyan University, Master’s from Purdue University
Job: WMS math teacher for seven years