By Amanda Burdette
ANNAPOLIS – Gov. Parris N. Glendening presented an education professor from Western Maryland College with the Maryland Professor of the Year award Thursday.
Francis “Skip” Fennell, a faculty member at the Westminster college since 1976, was selected from 554 faculty members nominated by universities across the country for his achievements in math education.
Fennell was cited for his unique and successful approach to teaching math.
He is the creator of “Number Sense Now,” which shows elementary school teachers how to teach math concepts in non- traditional ways that students enjoy. The video and reading materials instruction curriculum is funded by the Department of Education and in use across the state.
The program’s success lead to a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant in 1994 for Fennell to co-direct a Maryland Public Television series called “Numbers Alive!”
The 15-minute programs revolve around a teenage rock-group touring the country demonstrating how basic math can be applied at home and school. The series was released nationwide in 1995.
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education established the Professor of the Year Program in 1981 with The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an education policy center.
Fennell was nominated after receiving the Distinguished Teaching Award at Western Maryland College.
Glendening, himself former professor at the University of Maryland College Park, called the profession a “fraternity” united “by love of teaching and a profound belief in the importance of education.”
Fennell “is not only a gifted teacher, but a skilled author and an innovator in education,” he said.
Fennell also founded a partnership between Montgomery County Public Schools and Western Maryland College currently serving 30 students, who receive their master’s degrees in education with an emphasis on math teaching.
Kara Farell, a fromer Fennell student, said he teaches by setting examples: “He said, `There will be times when you don’t want to come into work, but be a professional.’ He had to drive an hour to come to our classes, but he came ready to teach….
“He is a mentor to me. If I had to pick one person in my life that has influenced me and my career it would be him,” she said.
Fennell described his teaching style as “simultaneously laid back and demanding. I am driven. Things have to be a certain way or it isn’t acceptable.”
He teared a little when talking about his students, and mentioned the importance of his family several times. “Being a dad helped a lot,” he said. “It taught me to be more compassionate.”
Thanking everyone, he said, “I am not the easiest person to work with. I am moody and intense. I appreciate people dealing with all that.”
Glendening called for more teacher recognition, to “encourage those who follow in Skip’s footsteps.”
Fennell is on a year’s leave of absence from Western Maryland while working at the National Science Foundation as program director for the Teacher Enhancement Program. -30-