West Florence math teacher wins international award

Joseph Fennel, a senior in one of Vicki Carter's Calculus classes at West Florence High School, uses a 3D pen to construct a box during class Monday.

FLORENCE, S.C. – Vicki Carter, a math teacher at West Florence High School, has received the Texas Instruments T3 Leadership Award for her work to enhance mathematics teaching and learning through creative and enthusiastic application of classroom technology.

The 39-year veteran of West Florence’s math department and 25-year math department chairwoman is one of two educators selected from a pool of international nominations and selected by peers. The person who nominated Carter remains a mystery but she is grateful.

“I was very surprised,” Carter said. “Anyone in the world that is an instructor is eligible to be nominated for this award so, yes, I was shocked. I’m just honored to have been selected.”

Carter received the award in mid-March at a banquet during the Texas Instruments International conference held in Fort Worth, Texas.

“It kind of felt like the Academy Awards there for a minute because we gave an acceptance speech,” Cater laughed.

“I just never expected to be honored in such a way,” Carter said. “I kind of feel like the work I do with students helped but it is also the work I do with the other adults and teachers here at West Florence, throughout our district and the region that matters.”

  Time spent outside of the classroom helps Carter prepare for her classes.

“I work with teachers in many locations when I travel on the weekends,” Carter said. “Those opportunities have given me a chance to grow, learn more and be better prepared to help my kids in the classroom. I think the award is just a thank you for all of the hard work I have done.”

Carter’s students, on average, are successful with the Advanced Placement exam which helps them earn college credit and move on to advanced math courses in college.

“They do quite well,” Carter said. “We have a very good passing rate here at West Florence with our AP Calculus program.”

Carter loves math, and has for quite some time.

“I grew up on a farm in rural South Carolina and went off to Clemson hoping to major in mathematics,” Carter said. “I had never seen the kinds of technology I encountered there. It was a very eye-opening experience for me.”

Her fondness for the subject is partly revealed by what she places a great deal of sentimental value in –her first calculator that, as luck would have it, was a Texas Instruments.

Determined to become a math teacher, she earned her teaching degree at Francis Marion University.

 “I want to say my students are a lot more prepared than I was,” Carter said. “I didn’t have a lot of the opportunities these students have and I keep trying to remind them of that often.”

While teaching them today, Carter also tries to prepare them for tomorrow.

“I tell them to take advantage of the opportunities that you have to take upper level courses, AP courses, and honors courses,” Carter said. “Get the most you can out of high school so that you will be ready for college.”

Monday, 13 students in an AP Calculus level AB class punched away on sophisticated graphing calculators, used iPads to check their work.

A few even tried their hand at constructing 3D forms using Carter’s latest purchase –a 3D pen. The device is similar to a glue gun and allows users to draw lines vertically and horizontally and connect them to design complex shapes. Most of the students had never seen one in person and have enjoyed using it.

                                                                                            

“She’s a great teacher,” Andrew Burckhalter said. “I think she thoroughly explains everything. If I don’t get something I will just call her over here and she will explain it. I think she’s an awesome teacher and she is here after school if anybody needs help.”

The senior, who plans to attend the Citadel and major in mechanical engineering, said the classroom atmosphere Carter creates is positive.

“We all have our fun but we can also get the work done at the same time,” Burckhalter said. “I really enjoy it.”

“We do a lot of hands-on activities,” Anna Shurman said. “It’s really easy to study for a test because we know exactly what we need to know. We do have a lot of fun but she knows when to get us serious and when we need to try really hard. She is really good at getting things across.”

Shurman said Carter doesn’t stop teaching when class is over.

“Last semester, I was here every day after school because there were some things I didn’t get but she always helped me out –every single day,” said Shurman, who wants to become a physician’s assistant.

“Mrs. Carter is definitely an interesting teacher in a sense that it was kind of intimidating at first because she helped write the AP test,” said Mark Lewallen, a senior who plans to attend Wofford College and major in business economics.

“She knows so much about what she teaches,” he said.

He added that she earned the recognition she received with the Texas Instruments award.

“She definitely deserves it; she is very talented with what she does –especially with using technology in the classroom,” Lewallen said. “She uses it well and is able to apply it…She pretty much knows what every single button on the calculator does, how it was made and different shortcuts.”

Carter started using the TI technology when the TI-81 graphing calculator was first introduced. When she started using calculators to teach AP Calculus they were not yet approved for use on the exam but she saw the future of technology in education and embraced it.

Carter was an advocate for bringing TI-83 technology and TI-Navigator systems into the classroom of Florence School District 1. She serves on the AP Calculus Development committee and grades the exam in Kansas City each June.

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