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DL teacher earns President's Award for excellence in math

Lisa Conzemius knew the routine before.

She already went through the application process for the President's Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching twice in the last four years, before winning the award as Minnesota's leading seventh through 12th grade math teacher.

"I find it really was a reflection piece," Conzemius said. "That's why I guess I am keep willing to do it a couple of times."

The work paid off, as she was part of a group of 99 teachers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia that were honored in a White House ceremony hosted by Vice President Dick Cheney. Conzemius received a $10,000 grant that can be use at her discretion over the next three years.

Her students are proud of what she's accomplished and think that they received good preparation for college.

"I think she really prepared us well for college, and I feel really confident in my calculus skills after having her as a teacher," said senior Ryan Borgeson.

The students in her AP calculus class shared Conzemius' enthusiasm about the award. "It's pretty neat that she's our teacher," said junior Jake Larson.

Conzemius doesn't even know who nominated her this time through. A member of the Minnesota math board nominated her the first time in 2004, and doesn't know if they put her up two years ago as well.

She's progressed further and further each time she's been nominated. Conzemius was a top-three state finalist in 2006, before taking the prize this time around.

The application process is intensive. Nominees need to have three letters of recommendation, a narrative of up to 20 pages that describes a teacher's response to the five Dimensions of Outstanding Teaching, with another 15 pages that can further demonstrate that point, and video that showed Conzemius working directly with her students.

"It's a good piece to keep you going 'Yeah, I really like what I do and I want to keep doing this,'" Conzemius said.

One of Conzemius' strengths in teaching is putting a practical aspect on skills when she is explaining a principle.

"We sit down and say if you take a 30-year house loan out, and it's a $150,000 house at this percent interest, how much interest do you really pay," she said.

She'll also throw in different variables to help students understand how costs can change from a small tweak in one part of a formula. Other units involve credit cards and how much interest you have to pay instead of just paying for something with cash.

"Students come back and say 'this is the most important math you ever taught us," Conzemius said.

"People don't understand how credit cards work, and it's really eye-opening for those kids," Conzemius said.

Computer programming figures into her lessons as well, with graphic calculators requiring programming that is similar to more mainstream computer languages. Conzemius double-majored in math and computer science at Concordia College in Moorhead.

Not looking too far ahead, Conzemius is excited about next year's AP statistics class. 24 students are already signed up. Helping students pass the basic 11th-grade math test that will be required to graduate is also a priority.

"We're going to make sure to keep kids who aren't making it to review that material and deciding that 'I have to do this or I'm not getting my diploma,'" Conzemius said.

She said that having a good attitude helps the teaching process along.

"Part of it is from enthusiasm and energy," Conzemius said. "I love what I do. I close the door and I teach. I hardly know that the day has gone by."

Borgeson will miss having her as a teacher, as he will be taking a second-level college calculus course in the fall. "I feel kind of spoiled having one of the best teachers in the country," he said.