Applied mathematics: MVJH teacher uses real world to reach students

November 27, 2018

MOHAVE VALLEY — Nicki Sgroi doesn’t believe the cliche that no one uses algebra in the real world.

Sgroi, who teaches honors math at Mohave Valley Junior High School, injects her lessons with examples of how what her students are learning relates to their lives.

“A lot of them play sports and use ATVs,” she said. “I try to relate lessons to those, because they’re interested in them. I relate a lot of things to money, because everybody likes money.”

Sgroi said a lesson on percentage changes offered a chance to study batting averages, and the students look at those of both major leaguers and those playing local youth baseball.

Other exercises, she said, include calculating tips and perusing sales ads — including the fine print — and identifying the best deal.

“It keeps them engaged,” Sgroi said. “They like to come up with their own examples.”

Sgroi said making the math relatable is important, as problems the students are expected to tackle get more rigorous.

Eighth-grader Devin Wilson said he likes Sgroi’s approach.

“She does a better job of teaching than most of my old math teachers,” Wilson said. “She shows us different ways to do it, instead of just one way.”

Eighth-grader Dylan Montez said Sgroi keeps her classes challenging, and works to get students through them.

“If I’m struggling, she helps me find out what I did wrong and helps me through how to do it right.”

Finding a profession was a matter of arithmetic, Sgroi said.

“I like helping people, and I really like math,” she said. “And when I was in college, I did color guard with the band. I worked with kids a lot. That contact with students made me go toward a career in education.”

One thing Sgroi enjoys about her work is the sense of contributing to the community.

“I get to make an impact on the youth in this area,” she said. “Which I feel they really need.”

Sgroi’s husband is a probation officer, and among her goals is keeping her students from seeing him.

Sgroi likes working at MVJH because of its family atmosphere and staff members’ dedication to one another, she said.

“My administrators are very supportive,” Sgroi said. “They offer a lot of professional feedback in a positive way so you can grow as a teacher.”

Later this school year, Sgroi’s sixth-graders will be using a bouncing ball to study proportional situations. Seventh- and eighth-graders will build catapults out of popsicle sticks and graph the distances they travel, then determine equations for the lines they create.

“She seriously does so many good things, it’s like ‘which one do I brag about first?’” said Todd Troidl, academic principal at MVJH, of Sgroi. “She just goes above and beyond constantly, both inside and outside the classroom.”

Troidl said Sgroi is highly qualified in Algebra 1, and that students who do well in her class can earn high-school credit before ever stepping onto a high-school campus.

“It seem to me that the kids work harder than she has to work because of her preparation and planning for the students,” he said.

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