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Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching Finalists

Meet the 2023 New York State Mathematics Finalists

Mrs. Sharon Collins, New Heights Academy Charter School

Sharon Collins provides mathematics instruction to juniors and seniors at New Heights Academy Charter School. Sharon teaches upper-level math courses including AP Calculus AB, Precalculus and Statistics, and serves as the mathematics department chairwoman. She has 23 years of teaching experience and has been in her current position for eight years. Before transitioning from engineering to teaching through Teach For America, Sharon earned a Master of Science degree in Environmental Engineering from Columbia University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Manhattan College (with chemistry and mathematics minors). Sharon holds New York State Professional Certifications in Mathematics and Chemistry, both for grades 7-12, and National Board Teaching Certification in Mathematics for Adolescence and Young Adulthood.

When teaching a classroom lesson, Sharon utilizes multiple representations, including graphical, numerical, and analytical, and provides connections to real-world applications based on her engineering background. Sharon encourages her students to have rich classroom discussions, be engaged in the work, and to collaborate with one another through “ratchetdemic” reality pedagogy. Sharon incorporates traditional and non-traditional forms of assessment, such as projects and roundtables, and demonstrates how the use of assessment can drive curriculum pacing and the differentiation of instructional approaches. Sharon reflects daily during her bike commute and uses her reflections to improve classroom lessons. She demonstrates how important it is to support all students, particularly her Spanish speaking students, by using visual aids, bilingual study guides, and alternative assessments. Sharon is passionate about advancing educational equity, including women in STEM fields and her immigrant students as first-generation college students. Sharon is a New York State Math for America Master Teacher, serves on Teach for America New York’s Alumni Association Board, and is an elected parent member of the Community Education Council for District 3, representing Harlem and the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Dr. Elizabeth Brennan DeGraaf, The Hewitt School

Dr. Elizabeth Brennan DeGraaf (Liz) teaches mathematics and is a Learning Design Coach at The Hewitt School, an independent K-12 girls day school in New York City. Liz is in her twentieth year of teaching and has been in her current position for over a decade. Prior to starting her teaching career, Liz earned a Bachelor of Science, summa cum laude, in Mathematics from Stony Brook University, followed by a Master of Arts in Mathematics and Urban Education from Adelphi University. Liz went on to obtain her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Liz holds a New York State Permanent Teaching Certification in Mathematics for grades 7-12.

Liz sets expectations with classroom norms that include participation, collaboration, and intellectual risk-taking. She co-constructs a growth-oriented space for students to build their problem-solving capacity by writing mathematical justifications, evaluating the writing, and reasoning of others, and learning through mathematical discourse. Liz incorporates mathematical modeling that connects with engineering and the sciences by, for example, printing 3D graphs that students design and by working with data science and social science/activism.

Liz is a member of the Learning & Innovation team at The Hewitt School and facilitates Professional Learning Communities on equitable grading practices, student-centered pedagogy, and incorporating the Learning for Justice standards into curricula. Liz has served as the department chairperson, a mentor teacher, a grade level dean, and has taught several mini courses through the Math for America (MfA) organization.

Dr. Scott Kennedy, Sachem High School East, Sachem Central School District

Scott Kennedy teaches AP Calculus AB and AP Statistics for the Sachem Central School District. Scott earned a Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Roger Williams University. Furthering his education, Scott earned a Master of Arts in Mathematics from St. John’s University and became a Doctor of Education in Educational Administration, Leadership, and Technology (Dowling College). Scott holds a NYS Professional Certification in Secondary Mathematics. Scott has 18 years of teaching experience and has been in his current position for sixteen years.

Scott utilizes flexible seating, discovery-based lessons, and tiered questioning to support the diversity of his students. Scott incorporates instructional approaches that are innovative and foster collaborative interactions among students, like critiquing the work of their peers and suggesting improvements. There is a support system in place to assist all students from diverse backgrounds (i.e., incorporating student expressions, questions, and discussions into formative assessments). Scott works hard to provide relevant experiences for his students including using real-world data sets and modern data science techniques into his AP Statistics class and bringing in a guest speaker to present math modeling that was completed during studies of artificial intelligence.

Scott reflects on daily lessons and encourages all teachers to develop habits of reflection on multiple perspectives. Scott developed a “Calculus Yodel” for a unique way to reach students in unique ways and was recognized on the local news station. Outside of his classroom, Scott is a department chair, a mentor teacher, and teaches for the local community college and for a university.

Meet the 2023 New York State Science Finalists

Ms. Danielle Dubno-Hammer, Institute for Health Professions at Cambria Heights, New York City Department of Education

Danielle teaches Green Science Research to juniors and seniors at the Institute for Health Professions at Cambria Heights (IHPCH), a public high school in Queens, NY. Regarding her education, Danielle earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of New Hampshire, a Master of Arts in Science Education from New York University, and a Master of Science in Educational Leadership from New England College. Danielle has 17 years of teaching experience overall and has taught for seven years in her current position. Danielle holds a New York Professional Teaching Certificate in Biology 7-12 with a General Science 7-12 Extension.

Danielle facilitates student-led discussions and student-designed experiments that honor student interest and choice and encourages students to take risks and learn from any mistakes. Using the Consortium Science PBAT Rubric, Danielle encourages self-assessment of student understanding along a continuum of the learning targets. Several instructional strategies (i.e., student choice, modeling, specific teacher-student feedback, peer feedback) are used in her classroom to meet the needs of diverse learners and increase motivation. Within Danielle’s classes, students work in teams with distinct roles and responsibilities (i.e., Group Leader, Task Manager, Notetaker, Presenter).

The development of the Green Science Research course came from learning about local issues around environmental equity and hydroponics and indoor gardening from Stephen and Lizette Ritz’s Green Bronx Machine. Danielle works with the New York Performance Standards Consortium to provide mentoring and professional learning around performance assessment in science, student advocacy in their communities, and connecting curriculum to students’ lives and their communities to strengthen Culturally Responsive-Sustaining Education in the school and entire district. Danielle was awarded a Math for America (MfA) Master Teacher fellowship and is a host teacher for New York Academy of Sciences Scientist-in-Residence program.

Ms. Maria Giambanco, High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, New York City Department of Education

Maria Giambanco teaches a project-based class in Sustainability through a STEAM based lens to students in grades 10-12 at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology. In addition to teaching, Maria is the greenhouse coordinator to maintain the school’s roof-top greenhouse and runs the school-based greenmarket. The rooftop greenhouse provides low-cost food to support the Food Bank of NYC and provides low-cost food to the school community. Maria earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from St. Joseph’s College, a Master of Science in Biological Science from Hofstra University, a Master of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and a Master of Science in Secondary Science Education from Queens College. Maria has spent her entire sixteen-year teaching career at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology and holds a New York State Professional Teaching Certification in Biology for grades 7-12.

Maria explores interdisciplinary, problem-based cooperative learning daily and utilizes a flipped classroom model in addition to other interactive instructional tools. Maria teaches every day in the school’s rooftop greenhouse where students are working in small groups on projects such as monitoring a 3-D model of an ecosystem in a bottle based on their 2-D model design or testing and modifying a design for an electric vehicle. Student discussion is encouraged, and their knowledge is challenged for a deeper understanding. Maria anchors her classes with the UN Sustainability Goals and her students are using scientific, historical, social justice, and engineering design-based lenses to propose solutions to current issues (i.e., global warming, trade-offs of agro-industrial food production, managing garbage and plastic waste).

Maria is a Math and Science for America (MfA) Master Teacher Fellow and is a member of a city-wide STEM community of critical thinkers, collaborative learners, and acclaimed experts. Maria is an active member of the Science Council of New York City (SCONYC) and New York State Science Education Consortium (NYSSEC).

Ms. Xue Qing Liang, New Utrecht High School, New York City Department of Education

Xue Qing Liang teaches chemistry at New Utrecht High School. Xue Qing started teaching 7 years ago and has been teaching in her current position for six years. Xue Qing earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the College of State Island, a Master of Art in Adolescence Chinese from Hunter College, an Advance Certificate Post Baccalaureate in Bilingual Education from Brooklyn College, and a Master of Arts in Teaching in Adolescence Science Education, 7-12 at CUNY Brooklyn College. Xue Qing holds a New York State Professional Teaching Certificate in Chemistry, 7-12, and in Chinese 7-12.

Xue Qing utilizes the Universal Design of Learning methods in her classroom to meet students’ needs and maximize their performance. Multiple means of representation are incorporated into Xue Qing’s lessons. Xue Qing’s instructional approaches are creative with incorporating engineering design, role playing, and reflective discussions. Students act as investigators and solve a real-world mystery to understand Boyle’s and Gay-Lussac’s Law. Xue Qing teaches a Chinese Bilingual Chemistry class to help minimize language barriers.

Xue Qing has strong involvement with the Science Olympiad and has participated in Math for America (MfA) to co-design environmentally sustainable labs by incorporating the principles of green chemistry. Xue Qing has participated in Engineering for Tomorrow, discussing student final projects with NASA engineers.

For more information regarding the award process, visit the PAEMST website or contact the Office of Standards and Instruction at