Giselle Isbell, Director of Prepared Mind at Athlos Academies, was honored at the nation’s capital in September for her selection as a recipient of the prestigious Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). President Obama invited Isbell, along with other awardees, to Washington, D.C. where they had the opportunity to participate in various professional development and honorary activities, including an awards ceremony on September 8, a trip to the National Zoo, and a tour of the White House.
“It was exhilarating to be in the company of the other awardees, all people passionate about math and science education, and sharing this rewarding experience,” Isbell said. “I was most excited about meeting with educational leaders, researchers, and policymakers from different agencies such as the White House Office of Science and Technology (OSTP) and the National Science Foundation (NSF). These agencies help shape policy, so it’s interesting to see what is at the forefront of the educational landscape.”
The PAEMST is the highest recognition a K-12 mathematics or science teacher can receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. Recipients were chosen from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity schools. Isbell was the math awardee in the state of Idaho.
“The recipients of this award are integral to ensuring our students are equipped with critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are vital to our Nation’s success,” President Obama said in a press release. “As the United States continues to lead the way in the innovation that is shaping our future, these excellent teachers are preparing students from all corners of the country with the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills that help keep us on the cutting-edge.”
Isbell has been an educator for 24 years, teaching fifth grade mathematics and a fifth and sixth grade class at Anser Charter School for 15 years. Previously, she taught at St. Mary’s School. Currently, she is the Director of Prepared Mind for Athlos Academies, working on mathematics instruction and school program elements for partnering charter schools.
“The Presidential Award is a celebration of my journey, one nurtured and supported by family, colleagues, and students,” Isbell said. “It validates my school and professional community, which encouraged and dedicated time for collaborative dialogue, analysis, and reflection, and the search for best practices for all students. Such practices develop character, community, and critical thinkers. With humbled gratitude, I am honored and inspired to do even more to strengthen our country’s mathematical literacy.”
In the classroom, Isbell engaged students by using contextual problems and strategic questions. By honoring students’ thinking and guiding strategies, she helped them to develop grit and confidence. Her facilitation of collaborative, purposeful discourse fosters deeper understanding and reasoning.
Isbell has led mathematics workshops and presented at several conferences, including four Expeditionary Learning (EL) national conferences. Recently, she co-presented a mathematics action research paper at a regional meeting. She has participated in state workshops and taught three Mathematical Thinking for Instruction courses for a statewide mathematics initiative.
The Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching is awarded to outstanding K-12 science and mathematics teachers from across the country. Winners are selected by a panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators following an initial selection process at the state level.
Along with her recognition, Isbell was granted a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation, to be used at her discretion.
“A goal I have had for much of my teaching career is to increase mathematical literacy for our country. I would like all people to feel confident about their mathematical understanding and apply it to make well-informed decisions in their careers, homes, and communities,” Isabell said. “At the school level, I think this begins with supporting teachers with effective professional development so they can help students develop a strong conceptual understanding of mathematics.”