Amesbury teacher makes Abu Dhabi trip a lesson in math

Courtesy photoAmesbury Middle School teacher Jenn Donais stands in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

AMESBURY — Jenn Donais will go just about anywhere to make math come to life for her students, including all the way to the Middle East.

Donais is in her first school year as an Amesbury Middle School math coach and taught her students lessons from 1,150 feet when she flew over the school in a Cessna T182T in November.

Donais also has been working with a company called STEM Revolution, which sends nationally recognized teachers to the Middle East to teach science, technology, engineering and math to their overseas counterparts.

Donais was the Massachusetts winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2016 and was sent to the United Arab Emirates to teach teachers about STEM education last spring.

The first trip went well enough that a four-person group of American teachers was sent to Abu Dhabi again earlier this month and Donais was again on the team.

“We all learned so much from each other,” Donais said. “I am a true believer in STEM education and I believe as a math coach, one of my biggest responsibilities is to expose the teachers and the students to as much STEM as I can this year. I also wanted to show to the kids that there is a whole world out there. We’re just not here in Amesbury Middle School and there is more out there that they can be involved in.”

Donais created a website at https://flipgrid.com/DonaisinAbuDhabi to send her students a number of Abu Dhabi-related math challenges while she was in the Middle East.

“Obviously, a lot of these students had never been to the UAE or the Middle East. So they don’t know too much about it,” she said. “I took some videos and sent them back so that they could see the culture there and I also asked them some math questions to see what that country is all about.”

Donais also made sure to keep fellow Amesbury Middle School teachers in the loop so she could send back some math lessons from the Middle East.

“We have an art teacher who asked me to take a video of the Sheikh Zayed Bridge,” Donais said. “I went to the bridge in the video and asked how long the bridge was and how many miles that is. I also did a video where they worked out our flight since they are 10 hours ahead of us. So the students had to convert that and figure out what time I would get home there at night.”

Sixth-grade math teacher Cathy Jackson said the lessons helped to make math real for her students.

“The kids really enjoyed it,” Jackson said. “It made math a little more fun and interesting. When they finished their regular work, they got to do one of her Flipgrid challenges. She posted videos there and they got to see what the country looks like a little bit. It helped them see how there is math in everyday life. Everything is a math problem, starting from the airport and throughout her travels. We are very lucky to have Jenn at our school.”

Donais said many of the teachers in Abu Dhabi were solving the same, everyday problems as she and her American colleagues.

“They have all of the same challenges,” Donais said. “They talk about behavioral issues over there, just like we do. We were going there to try to get more STEM education into their lessons but their biggest thing was time. ‘How much time will it take to do this?’ They also have standardized testing just like we do. So, they were nervous about having to fit everything in. That’s funny to hear because it is the same everywhere.”

Donais left for the United Arab Emirates right after the winter break and returned Friday night.

“It is beautiful over there,” Donais said. “We were also over there during (the killing of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani by a U.S. military drone) and people were all asking if we were OK. It’s supposed to be one of the safest countries in the world and I truly felt safe. Even though I was in the Middle East, I never felt there was ever going to be an issue.”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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