A teacher who elevates mathematics learning by building relationships with and among students has been recognized as one of Canada's top educators.
Nat Banting, a teacher at Marion M. Graham Collegiate, received one of two Teaching Excellence in STEM certificates presented nationally as part of the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching Excellence.
Banting said being included in a group of outstanding educators from across the country is welcome recognition for his work, but also for the support and inspiration provided by students, teaching colleagues, school administration and others.
"I love teaching, and to have that passion recognized is humbling," he said. "The thing about teachers is it is never about recognition. Each of the recipients works tirelessly to provide the best opportunities for our students. In that way, we all pursue the same thing, but I just happen to use mathematics.
"Professionally, my goal is to use this to continue to provide rich mathematical spaces for kids — both inside my classroom and across the various communities I belong to. We have brilliant teachers doing great things, and if I can act as some sort of conduit between them, it makes us all stronger."
Banting's nomination highlights a dedication to re-visioning the profession, beginning with the relationships between learners and mathematical meaning, but also between students within the class, between teachers, and between the wider public and meaningful mathematical experiences.
His classes are described as dynamic environments where students are active producers of mathematics, rather than passive recipients. Students move around the room, discuss, troubleshoot, and arrive at solutions to the problems he has set out for them to investigate.
"If you were to visit Nat's classroom, you would experience anything but a traditional math class," Principal Karen Peterson said in the nomination. "Students are mathematicians under the guidance of their thinking facilitator. Through play-based scenarios, Nat walks students through mathematical thinking and reasoning versus memorization of steps to solve a problem. The students connect with his energy and passion."
"Students that once thought they were not math people are transformed by the interactive vertical learning and collaboration that occurs amongst the class surrounded by walls of whiteboards they use to reason out and explain concepts."
Banting's commitment to making mathematics accessible and interesting includes reaching beyond the high school students he teaches. In an effort to bring classrooms together for a playful mathematics experience amidst COVID-19, he adapted the mathematics board game MULTI into a digital format that saw close to 100 Saskatchewan classrooms play against one another.
His belief in building mathematical communities extends to elementary students. The popular math fairs hosted pre-COVID at the collegiates where he's taught give students a sneak peek at high school. Currently, he is working to create a system of "escape-room inspired" lock box math tasks with a goal to build math experiences that can travel from school to school. The concept of a summer math program for the wider community is also percolating.
"I try and include as many students as possible because I want to build vibrant communities of mathematicians. When I get to work with students in the elementary grades, it strengthens the connection between the two phases of their schooling — elementary and secondary. I also get to network with expert elementary teachers and that makes me better at my craft.
"I hope students take away that math is for them, by them. That mathematics is something we do, not that is done to us. Be brave, make a conjecture, search for patterns, work together, and reason through scenarios."
Banting has firsthand experience of the impact of building connections between students and mathematics and between students and teachers. Last quarter, four students in his Grade 12 math class were students he first met when they were in Grade 6 in their elementary schools.
"I cannot begin to describe the benefit of those relationships when building a class culture," he said. I think it's awesome when I work with students at Marion Graham, and they can go home and talk with their siblings who I worked with at Brownell or Lawson Heights (schools)."
Banting's innovation and excellence in mathematics education has also been recognized by the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, which in 2019 made him the first practicing classroom teacher to receive the prestigious Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award.
"It's important to recognize the people that make my job fun," he said. "These awards focus too much on one person, and not enough on the many that support and inspire. This list includes my admin team at Marion Graham, my math teaching colleagues, 'the bench' support group, and — most importantly —my students. The last couple of tough years have taught us to stick together, and I value their support more than they know."
Read the full award citation on the Prime Minister's Awards for Teaching website.