Noyce | Participant Profiles
Noyce Master Teaching Fellow, Master of Arts in Teaching
High School Mathematics Teacher
Lincoln High School
Lincoln High School math teacher Amber Vlasnik has been showing others the beauty in mathematics since she was a student in high school. Early on, she became the one her peers went to for help. She realized that if she could find more than one way to solve a problem, she was more likely to be able to explain the process.
“Math became more about making sense than just finding the right answer,” the Lincoln native said. “It was at this time, I realized that being a math teacher could be the perfect blend of my strengths and passions.”
In 2011, Vlasnik got the chance to fulfill her passion by helping struggling students gain confidence in math in a brand-new position as a math interventionist for Lincoln Public Schools. Three high schools in LPS were chosen to pioneer a program funded by the High School Graduation Initiative grant. Vlasnik helped create the program at Lincoln High, an urban school in downtown Lincoln.
As a math interventionist, she worked with students in a one-to-one ratio or in small groups, overcoming any barriers in already busy schedules, and tailoring the learning experience to the students’ specific needs. Vlasnik said she liked seeing the change in students’ attitudes toward math and the resulting improvements, such as grades that improved on average by a full letter.
During this time, Vlasnik graduated with a Master of Arts for Teachers degree from UNL and was selected as a Noyce MTF. After three years, Vlasnik became the math department chair and began teaching Advanced Algebra Differentiated and math for English Language Learners, allowing for another opportunity to employ her skills helping others.
The ELL math class is designed to help students gain skills to be better equipped in learning Algebra. At Lincoln High, she works with diverse populations, some of which are Lincoln’s large refugee groups, namely from Iraq and Myanmar.
“An increasing number of our students have little to no formal schooling when they come to the United States,” Vlasnik said. “This means that they may not even know what numbers mean, let alone be able to perform basic operations with those numbers.”
Making sure these students are prepared and equipped with the information they need for college is quite an undertaking, Vlasnik said. However, through her involvement with NebraskaMATH, NMSSI and NebraskaNOYCE, Vlasnik feels as though she has a multiplicity of ideas and wealth of information from which to draw, and by which to solve each unique problem or intervene in each situation.
One of her challenges as department chair is how to bridge the gap between school and family. Coordinating with community organizations like Lighthouse and The HUB helps connect Lincoln High students and their teachers with parents, families and support systems to have an open line of communication and bring all involved into the educational process.
Vlasnik works with 17 department members and is the liaison between the department, school administration and the district office. In addition she serves on test writing committees and leads staff development sessions. In April 2016, Vlasnik was the recipient of the Miss Myrtle Clark Outstanding Mathematics Educator Award from the LPS Foundation. Vlasnik was also chosen as the 2017 Nebraska Teacher of the Year in late 2016.
Vlasnik views the connections that she has made through Noyce as a “priceless resource.”
“The world needs people who can think mathematically and problem solve, and the math classroom is our opportunity to hone these skills,” Vlasnik said.