Mr. Matthew Donnelly, ‘06, a mathematics teacher and department chair at Saint Bernard School, has been named a recipient of the Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). Donnelly is also a published mathematical researcher, a consultant with the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and has been a guest lecturer at universities in the United States and China.
Established in 1989, The Edyth May Sliffe Award recognizes the nation’s top math teachers for their contributions to their field. This national teaching award honors Mr. Donnelly’s outstanding commitment to spark students’ interest in mathematics through participation in the MAA American Mathematics Competitions.
Mr. Donnelly said he knew that he was recommended for the award, but he never expected to receive it.
Saint Bernard Head of School Don Macrino hailed Mr. Donnelly’s accomplishment.
“We are all very proud of Mr. Donnelly and this award comes as no surprise, given his knowledge of math and his performance in the classroom,” Macrino said. “Math is a difficult subject for many. He has the ability to make the understanding of math attainable to all.”
Mr. Donnelly, who has been an instructor at Saint Bernard School for 14 years, approaches teaching math through project-based learning. In project-based learning, students are taught a concept and then gain knowledge and skills through exploration of real-world challenges and problems.
“I’m trying to get students to think of the problem that they are working on as a puzzle or a process with real-world applications,” he said.
He believes that using project-based learning in the classroom helps students discover that math does not have to be a negative in their lives. For those who love math, it helps them achieve at an even higher rate. “I am successful as a teacher if I have students afraid of math who are no longer scared, students who hate math who are no longer bothered by it, and who come to learn that math is no longer a negative in their lives,” he said.
Using project-based learning, Mr. Donnelly has been able to introduce a number of unique courses at Saint Bernard, such as the Philosophy of Space and Time, The Philosophy of Religion, and Philosophy of Math and Astrophysics.
Mr. Donnelly’s mother is a retired physics professor with a degree in biochemical engineering and his sister has a degree in physics and math. Coming from that background and then seeing few women in math and science when he started teaching, he has encouraged girls to pursue their passion for math and science.
Recently, Mr. Donnelly learned that a former student who discovered her love for math at Saint Bernard School published a research paper on mathematical biology. Mr. Donnelly said she went from hating math to discovering its “coolness.”
“It’s wonderful when you can see that you had an impact on a student’s life,” he said.
Mr. Donnelly will be recognized at a special reception during the annual MathFest conference in Sacramento, California in August 2021. The conference draws mathematicians from across the country. As part of his award, he will receive a $500 stipend and all expenses paid trip to MathFest.
By Shari Marderness and Kim Hodges