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Outstanding Educator

Heather Belden

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04/01/2008 - Heather Belden, a teacher at Paradise Valley Christian School, is animated as she stands before her first graders. It's obvious those children adore her. And it's obvious she adores them.

"I love what I do," Heather tells me as we visit in principal Jeannie Boyd's office. No, we're not in the principal's office because we're in trouble. We're there because Jeannie is taking Mrs. Belden's class while Heather and I visit. One of the many advantages of being in a small, tight-knit school.

"We live in a visual world. Much of our learning is hands-on. The main part of my teaching is to have the students use manipulatives every day."

What are manipulatives?

Manipulatives are objects that students can hold, touch, and maneuver. Everyday objects such as toothpicks, pieces of paper, and milk cartons that students can handle and manipulate as they try to figure out a problem in math. Or to prove an hypothesis in science. Or to solve real-life questions like telling time by the hands on the face of a clock..

"If we're doing a math lesson, I'll put 12 toothpicks on a student's desk and tell him to divide them in half. The student first has to figure out what I'm asking him to do." He contemplates possible solutions aloud in much the same way contestants do on 'Who Wants to Be Millionaire?'

"The student decides if I'm asking him to break each of the toothpicks in half or if I'm asking him to divide the whole bunch into two bunches." And, if it's the later, the student then figures out if it matters if one half has more toothpicks in it than the other half. And if that matters, why does it matter? Could it have something to do with the word half? If it does, then what is half of twelve? Typically, the student's next move is to start manipulating the toothpicks by putting one on one side of his desk and another on the other side. He continues to put one toothpick on each side of his desk until there are no more toothpicks to manipulate. After that, he usually counts the toothpicks on each side and...voila!... "Six and six!" Addition starts making sense. Division starts making sense. Fractions will start making sense. All in one lesson. By the time the students get to the pencil-and-paper part of this math lesson, it's just a review of what they already learned.

Heather is also teaching her first graders to love reading and writing. They develop their keyboarding skills by writing their own stories on the computer. And they use pencil and paper to write in their journals to reflect on their lessons and to chart the progress of their learning.

The students also get to communicate orally. They speak in front of the class and they read poetry aloud. They sometimes tell jokes or stories and do reader's theatre and plays.

"I like to introduce what they learn in step-by-step instructions so they can accept it more easily. That's what I love about teaching. Breaking it down into those little steps."

Heather and her husband Tate have a 14-year-old son who is an 8th-grader at Paradise Valley Christian School. He did very well in the state-wide science fair and don't be surprised if you see him featured as a 'Cool Kid' in one of our upcoming issues.

Heather likes Casper because of her job, her church (The Beldens attend Faith Assembly of God.), their friendly neighborhood, the friendly people, the river and the river pathway.

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