Instructor Spotlight: Solomon Willis

We love our innovative faculty users! This week we are spotlighting Solomon Willis, mathematics instructor and Mathematics, Health, and Physical Education Department Chair at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC.

Solomon WillisWhat is your educational background and teaching history? 

I earned my Bachelor of Science degree from Gardner-Webb University in 1999. My major was mathematics and I earned a double-minor in education and computer science. I started teaching right after graduating, and later earned my Master of Arts degree in Mathematics Education. My teaching experience includes six years at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, NC, where I taught all levels of middle school and high school mathematics. I was hired full time at Cleveland Community College in Shelby, NC, in August, 2006, and have been there ever since. I am currently the Department Chair of Mathematics, Health, and Physical Education. I have taught at the college level, everything from developmental math up through calculus II and statistics.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My belief is that every individual can learn and can obtain an education. Teachers should realize that each person learns in his or her own unique way and they should try to cater to each student’s individual needs and learning style. Because each student learns individually, teachers should use various teaching strategies and do as much as possible to make learning interesting. Technology is also a key role in teaching and learning mathematics. I believe that all students should have the opportunity to experience the usefulness of graphing calculators. Education is important for young people in order for them to become meaningful citizens in today’s competitive world. Today’s society also has many adult learners going back to school, and teachers also need to accommodate their needs and different learning styles.

What teaching practices do you employ to get your students engaged in learning?

I try to find and use real world examples as much as I can to help make math “real” for students. If they can see where something is used in the real world then they seem to understand and appreciate it better. You will laugh, but I am a big Dolly Parton fan and collector of her memorabilia. My students quickly learn this and I often use “Dolly data” or facts about her in my classes. In statistics and quantitative literacy, we make a time series graph that shows her number of hit songs through the 1970’s and 1980’s. In pre-calculus we construct a linear model dealing with the life expectancy of women and always use Dolly’s year of birth to predict how long she will live! In addition to Dolly, I have students create a database of songs from their iPods and do various projects using the data – such as finding the mean length of their songs, a Pareto chart by genre, or a pie chart by decade.

What are your best practice suggestions for using WebAssign?

I have recently been making much more use of the Personal Study Plan (PSP). I encourage students to use this and even count it as a category in their weighted average. It quickly shows them their weaknesses and provides them with many tools to build upon those weaknesses. I love how customizable WebAssign is. If there is not something that works one semester, then I change it for the next semester. It is easy to copy a course from semester to semester, but also easy to make changes when needed. I don’t know how many times I have played around with the number of attempts or the things that I want them to see before or after the due date. I do find that 5 attempts on homework seems to work well for my students. I have also found that I should not be afraid to ask for help with WebAssign when I have a question; I am amazed at the quality of customer service WebAssign provides and the speediness of responses.

What role does technology play in your teaching?

I consider myself a “TI-84 expert” and use it almost daily in my teaching. I am also teaching myself more about the TI-NSpire and plan to make more use of it in the near future. I like showing students how to do things by hand, and then showing them how the graphing calculator makes it better! I also use a tablet computer in my teaching. I hook it up to the classroom projector, write out almost everything I do on the tablet, and then save it as a PDF for students to access later on Blackboard. I tell my students that it is a “high-tech overhead projector.” Almost all of my homework assignments are submitted through Blackboard and/or WebAssign. I collect very little on paper anymore and grade very little by hand, which is all a huge time-saver for me. I also frequently use Excel in the classroom for data projects, especially in statistics.