Within minutes of Jessica Strom’s high school math class starting, it is clear that it is different. Students instantly stand, divide into small groups and take to whiteboards that encircle the room to begin finding as many ways as they can to solve a problem.

They wrestle with new ideas, explore different approaches, ask one another for input and together learn that success in math is not in finding “the answer,” but rather the journey of discovering there is usually more than one right answer.

They’re empowered to be problem solvers — a skill that certainly is necessary in math, but will also translate to any career they pursue in the future.

“Coming in to her classroom was a fresh change,” said Jadon Kangas, a student in Strom’s class at Win-E-Mac High School in northern Minnesota. “It changed all of math for me.”

Strom has flipped her classroom. She has recorded thousands of lessons on video It’s a platform her students say they prefer because they can back up and listen to parts or all of it again to better understand the concepts. Then they come to class the next day to apply what they have learned.

This teaching approach is helping students who once struggled in math become higher achievers. “I’ve never been good at math and I actually felt like I was good at math this year because I understood what I was doing,” said Jaycee Knutson, one of Strom’s students.

Staying Fresh Herself

Strom believes in keeping her teaching fresh and keeps herself and her colleagues continuously improving with this question, “Have you been teaching for 16 years or have you been teaching the same year 16 times?” Strom said.

While some teachers may feel isolated in a small rural community, Strom has sought out a community of educators who she can learn from – often virtually and through Twitter.

“She’s always looking for something new that will make it better for the kids,” said Erin Marsyla, a teacher at Fisher Public Schools.

She reminds students that mathematics is the study of patterns. It’s their job to notice the patterns, describe them and then generalize them.

Equipping Other Teachers

Passion about the impact math has in our world today and will in the future, Strom also gives time to help parents through districtwide Math Nights and support colleagues in her school district and across her region. “Seeing she can do it motivates me,” Marsyla said.

Strom has worked alongside many educators, including Win-E-Mac kindergarten teacher Eileen Cook to bring this approach to some of the district’s youngest learners.

“She empowers (students) to do it their own way, think through it on their own and come up with different answers,” Cook said.

Educator of Excellence

MREA honored Strom as a 2019 Educator of Excellence for her innovation, collaboration and unwavering commitment to get results for her students — and students across Greater Minnesota. See more stories of Educators for Excellence.