CSMCE | Profiles

Shelby Aaberg speaks at the 2014 Nebraska Summit on Math and Science Education

Shelby Aaberg

Noyce Master Teaching Fellowship

High School Mathematics
Scottsbluff High School

Not many people can say they have shaken a President’s hand three times in four months, as Shelby Aaberg can.

Two of those three times almost didn’t happen.

Aaberg, a Noyce Master Teaching Fellow, was scheduled to fly to Washington on April 25, 2015, for the celebration of the State Teachers of the Year at The White House.

His wife, Laura, went into labor with their second child on April 24, and their son, Emmett, was born that afternoon.

The 2015 Nebraska Teacher of the Year changed his flight to April 26 and arrived late to the initial event, held at the home of Vice President Joe Biden. (Small world: He discovered the guard at the Naval Observatory gate was his distant relative.) Later that week, Aaberg shook President Obama’s hand in the Oval Office before all of the teachers were honored at the Rose Garden in an outdoor ceremony.

Little did he know an upcoming second hand shake was about to be captured on TV, in front of a huge crowd outside. [A video of the recognition event can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efilOT3cQrM.]

“Dean Aamodt, the 2015 North Dakota Teacher of the Year and a music teacher, had written a song for the President that all of us sang. The President was surprised by this and decided to walk through the crowd of teachers to exit the ceremony. As he walked through the middle of the crowd, my heart started racing. I thought, ‘I am going to get to shake the President’s hand again, this time in front of all these people,’ ” the Scottsbluff High School teacher said. “Immediately after the hand shake, my phone buzzed in my pocket. Lora Sypal, the Nebraska coordinator of the Teacher of the Year program, had actually screen-captured photos of my handshake immediately after it happened. The photo is my background banner on my Twitter profile.”

Aaberg’s second trip to Washington in 2015 was unexpected. After applying for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) in 2013 and becoming a finalist, it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that he was told he had won the 2013 award.

This time, he made sure to bring his wife along on the trip, since traveling in April was out of the question for her. On the second trip for PAEMST, he shook President Obama’s hand a third time.

Aaberg also got to visit Jim Lewis, former PI of the NebraskaNOYCE grant, at the NSF during a professional development day for the PAEMST winners.

“Teaching is the single most important human endeavor,” Aaberg, a 10-year veteran teacher said. “The teaching profession needs more opportunities to recognize teacher leaders and to distinguish exemplary classroom practice. For these reasons, I wanted to become a Noyce Master Teaching Fellow. Many of the professional opportunities that have come my way have been a result of my involvement with the Noyce program.”

A Gering High School graduate, a school found in the far western Nebraska Panhandle, Aaberg earned a bachelor’s degree from UNL and a master’s degree at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in mathematics education, as well as endorsements in assessment leadership and English as a Second Language. He is currently working on his doctorate in education at UNL.

He spent his first two years as a high school educator at Omaha Westside High School, but moved back to the Gering area to Scottsbluff, to be closer to his wife’s family. At Scottsbluff High School, where 40 percent of the students are Hispanic and approximately 54 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches, Aaberg started an AP Calculus course, as well as Math Club, and has been the sprint coach since 2006. He coached the girls team to a state championship in 2007 and the boys team in 2012.

In 2015, Aaberg also led his Math Club students to earn a Class II Math Bowl first-place finish at UNL Math Day, one of his proudest accomplishments.

“I took 49 students and four adults on the 400-mile trip to Lincoln,” said Aaberg, who has been the math department chair since 2012. “This marks the fourth year we have taken roughly 50 of our students to the math contest. In 2006, my first year at Scottsbluff High, I took four students in a Crown Victoria. The math contest has become an annual highlight of students’ experience at Scottsbluff, due in part to many people involved with Noyce.”

Aaberg, who is active in several professional organizations, including the NATM, NCTM, the Nebraska Council on Teacher Education and the Scottsbluff Education Association, has taught almost every course at Scottsbluff. Currently, he teaches AP Statistics, Precalculus/Trigonometry, Geometry, and a STEM course he authored in 2008 titled “Mathematical Theory and Problem Solving,” which is an elective math course where the students prepare for contest mathematics and do project-based learning.

Previously, he has served as the Scottsbluff building coordinator for English Language Learners and the High Ability Learners as well as National Honor Society (NHS) sponsor, during which he installed a community service requirement for NHS inductees. He has helped select the district’s elementary mathematics curriculum and has represented the district on the Teacher Principal Evaluation Revision Pilot.

Aaberg did not begin his college years in teacher education. He started out in chemical engineering, but he found he did not have a passion for it. The influence of two math teachers he had while growing up led Aaberg to change paths. He also had enjoyed playing school as a child, using his brother, Sean, as his first “student.”

Over the past few years, Aaberg said he has learned that leadership is rarely about position and more about empowering others. He has enjoyed traveling around the state to observe the classroom teaching of the other fellows and has taken the lead on building connections between them.

During the 2014 Midwest Regional Noyce Connections Conference in Omaha in October, the Nebraska MTFs in attendance were sitting in a circle between sessions, sharing ideas. The group agreed it would be beneficial to have an easy way to continue to share ideas with one another after the conference. Aaberg pitched an idea for a Sunday night Twitter chat, and with that, #noycechat was off and running.

These weekly chats during the school year are usually moderated by Aaberg, but guests are welcome to come up with a theme and questions and lead the discussion. All Midwest Noyce personnel are invited to participate. Aaberg uses Storify to archive #noycechat, which can be read at https://storify.com/ShelbyAaberg.

Aaberg said the Noyce program has shown him that he is not alone in his craft and that resources are out there to empower him to do better for his students.

“The late night conversations with Dan Schaben and Jason Vitosh, the summers we roomed together at UNL and stayed up all hours working on mathematics problems for our Noyce graduate courses, were spectacular,” Aaberg said. “I have gained lifetime friends, colleagues I can trust, colleagues in front of which I can remove my professional armor and be a vulnerable, imperfect teacher doing the best I know how.”