The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

June 17, 2009

Teacher shared math talents

Rhodes specialized in developing programs

BY APRIL EVANS

GEORGETOWN — Esther Rhodes has a mind made for math and she has been sharing it with students for 35 years.

Rhodes has been a fixture in the math wing at Georgetown-Ridge Farm High School since 1990, teaching algebra, calculus and physics, but she also taught science and math for years at the junior high before moving up a level.

Developing programs has been one of her specialties. Some programs have involved older students working with the elementary level, while other current projects are futuristic.

Programs with younger students have included velocity and aerodynamics with balloons and straws, determining the speed and size of an animal by its tracks, a cardboard boat race at the YMCA and an Egyptian unit where they mummified chickens. Also, she organized a Pottawatomie festival with high school volunteers for the fourth-graders where they made fire, stretched real drums, tanned hides, made outfits and more.

Most recently, Rhodes has been involved in helping to write and develop a Wolfram Mathematica software program that uses calculus to find the volume of an object using photosensitive liquid. It’s the first of its kind to use the Mathematica software for calculus class learning. Rhodes has already presented it publicly once and will again at a state mathematical conference this fall.

But, of all that she’s done and accomplished as an educator, Rhodes said it’s the “light bulb moment” that is her favorite part of teaching.

“It’s working with a student and seeing that light come on when they really understand,” she said. “That’s the best part. That smile when they get that paper back and it’s really clicked with them.”

She said students have changed since she first began teaching, but it isn’t all bad. She said kids today are just more into instant gratification.

“That comes more with our technology,” Rhodes said. “They’re just more impatient.”

Cindy Gilliland, who has worked with Rhodes in the district her entire career, said her teaching methods are not typical, but are more hands-on and not by-the-book. She said Rhodes has tutored students in her classroom before school daily and also has worked with kids at their homes.

“She had a very vested interest in her students beyond just math and was interested in their lives and getting them into the work world,” Gilliland said. “She had a very genuine interest in helping students do their best.”

Rhodes said she would never flunk a student who was giving his all.

“The most frustrating are those students who have the ability and don’t use it, who don’t apply themselves,” Rhodes said.

During retirement Rhodes plans to tutor students, work with orphaned animals, travel, garden and volunteer with some of the programs she developed in the district.

ESTHER RHODES

Age: 65

Education: Bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Millikin University in 1965, an additional 100-plus credit hours in computer and geology courses from Southern Illinois University and Eastern Illinois University.

Experience: 35 years teaching beginning in the Danville school district from 1969 to 1974, then taught in the Georgetown-Ridge Farm School District from 1979 to present at both the junior high and high school levels.