Months ago, a math specialist from the Alpine School District filmed Quinn Braden’s fourth-grade classroom at Meadow Elementary for a training video. The specialist was so impressed, she nominated Braden for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST), the highest honor available for k-12 science, technology, engineering, mathematics and/or computer science teaching.Braden is now the 2022 Utah Elementary Mathematics finalist for the prestigious national award.
“I see my students as people who have nine to ten years of experience dealing in mathematics. They come with complex understandings and systems they’ve created through their own life experiences,” said Braden. “My job is to pose tasks and elicit their thinking and provide an environment where they can engage in dialog with one another and create meaning and understanding together.”
Quinn Braden grew up surrounded by educators. His Dad was a junior high teacher, and his Mom went back to school and became a teacher when Braden was in grade school. “From junior high on, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.
He also knew he wanted to teach elementary school, thanks to a male teacher he had in sixth grade who inspired him. “I don’t remember much if anything of the content he taught me, but more as a positive person in my life and in our community,” said Braden.
Rather than start a math lesson by telling his students he’ll be teaching the standard algorithm for division, Quinn Braden gives them a real-life task and asks how they can “attack” it. “We talk about how to solve problems – what is efficient and what isn’t. We look at different methods and make connections between methods. At the end of the day, I ask them, ‘By the way, what were we doing with numbers today?’ Then they realize we were putting things into groups and doing division,” Braden explained. “We’re taking what they already know and helping them make sense of it.”
Braden hears many adults say they wished they’d learned math this way. “The heart of math is problem-solving,” he said.
Coming back from the pandemic-caused school shut down in Spring of 2020, and then a shortened schedule in the 2020-2021 school year has been a challenge for every teacher and student. Braden has seen substantial growth in students from the beginning of this school year to now. “It just goes to show how resilient children are and if you plan well and work as a team with the other teachers, the students will excel,” he said.
Braden and his family live in Meadow Elementary’s boundaries – he walks to work and his children go to the school as well. “My wife and I rely on teachers to provide not just the academic, but the social and emotional components as well. Even more, now that I’m a parent of elementary students, I feel the obligation and the privilege to try to provide that for my students,” he said.