When Tyler Run Elementary School math teacher Becky Dittman's fifth-grade students told her they wanted to learn what a million of something looked like, she helped them collect as many pennies as possible.
While they only made it to 146,000 pennies, Dittman was proud of the students, because they used math to estimate how many coins were in the jugs they'd used to collect them.
"We took them to a Coinstar machine, because we weren't going to count that many pennies, and they were only off by about 267 pennies," she said. "I thought it was pretty impressive, especially because we used all kinds of different math concepts to figure that out."
Dittman's passion for teaching real-world applications to math, as opposed to formulas, is one of the reasons she recently was honored with the Outstanding Mathematics Teacher award from the Ohio Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
The council awards five teachers from the state each year who have been recommended by their school principals. Dittman is the only central Ohio teacher who will receive an award at the council's annual conference in October.
Dittman said she is happy to share the title with her fellow Tyler Run math teacher and mentor Mandy Robek, who received the award for the 2008-09 school year and encouraged Dittman to attend the council conference.
"I went with her to that first conference and it's nice to have that professional dialogue with someone else on an ongoing basis," said Dittman, who has been teaching math for nine years -- six of which she's spent at Tyler Run teaching third, fourth and fifth grades.
Dittman since has become a regular presenter at the conference. In her presentations, she explains to teachers how students can use problem-solving notebooks to analyze and think differently about the mathematical process.
"People find it interesting when they realize that I got my undergrad degree in English literature, because they think I'm kind of a math geek," she said. "I've just always valued that ability to communicate an idea, whether that's about literature or mathematics."
She said one of her personal theories is that everyone -- not just her students, but their parents, too -- can be good at math if they realize its practical applications and understand that it sometimes requires patience.
This year, she'll have students figure out how an electric bill is formulated.
"There is no need to memorize formulas now like there was 20 years ago, because anybody can Google a formula," Dittman said. "Instead, it's about finding ways to continue being a critical thinker and a problem solver."