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Banting's fun approach to math earns teaching excellence award

Nat Banting also received the Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award in 2019 for his innovative work in teaching math.
Nat Banting speaks during a Saskatoon Public Schools board meeting that took place before the pandemic.

SASKATOON — Nat Banting received a call from Ottawa late Thursday evening, Nov. 18. He was hesitant to answer the call, thinking it might just be a telemarketer or one of those phone scams that tell people there’s a discrepancy with their SIN or that Canada Border officials are looking for them and must pay a certain fine to avoid legal problems.

But curiosity overpowered him.

“My first reaction was that it was probably a telemarketer or phone scam, and not to answer it. For some reason, I did answer it and a representative gave me the news. I was shocked because it has almost been a year since the nomination was completed. So much has happened since then,” Banting told SASKTODAY.

The call was to inform Banting, who’s been working for the Saskatoon Public School for 11 years, that he was one of the only two recipients of the prestigious Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Cindy Law from Toronto, Ont. was the other recipient.

Banting is the second recipient of the award from Saskatchewan and also the second from Saskatoon, after physics and science educator Andrea Regier of Bishop James Mahoney High School in 2017. He is also the sixth from the province to earn the Prime Minister award for teaching.

“It certainly is an honour because I know, firsthand, how many amazing mathematics teachers we have in our province. A large part of any success I’ve had as a teacher is due to the strong network of colleagues that I’ve surrounded myself with,” said the Marion M. Graham Collegiate mathematics teacher.

Past Saskatchewan winners of the PM Award for Teaching Excellence include Weyburn Comprehensive School’s Margot Arnold, Oskayak High School’s Marc Gobeil from Saskatoon in 2017, Chief Mistawasis Nêhiyawak School’s Denise Desjardins in Leask and Lumsden High School’s Carla Cooper in 2018, and Miller Comprehensive Catholic High School’s Heather Faris of Regina.

The news, however, was not much of a surprise for Banting after knowing that colleague and good friend Ilona Vashchyshyn took care of submitting his name for nomination.

“It involved pieces from many people including my administrators, colleagues and former students. I had to sign off on some pieces, so I was aware that she was nominating me,” said Banting.

The Marion Graham community celebrated his achievement as it was a welcome break from the challenges brought by the pandemic.

“The response has been nice because it has given us an excuse to pause and reflect on the monumental challenge that the last couple years has been with the many interruptions of COVID-19. I am part of a wonderful school and school community at Marion Graham; great schools make great teaching possible.”

He added that he’s still savouring the news. “The details of the ceremony are still being determined. Right now, I’m just trying to have it all soak in, and we will worry about that [ceremony] part later.”

Banting said the award is an affirmation and validation of his work and teaching methods, which helped his students appreciate mathematics.

“It also provides motivation to keep connecting with others with similar passions about teaching and learning mathematics. Maybe the award provides opportunities to talk about the possibilities of math education to a wider audience, but only time will tell," said Banting.

“I wouldn’t say that I’ve ‘changed’ [the] misconception [on math], but it is something I work toward every day. I think a positive stance toward mathematics begins when students are asked to make mathematical decisions. These decisions then become the impetus to construct mathematical understanding. A lot of times, math classes can feel like it is exclusively focused on following directions, and I try to disrupt this by creating an environment where the student is a producer of mathematical ideas.”

Banting has brought a fun math experience into his classes and even used the digital format of the board game MULTI when health restrictions were put in place, inviting other classrooms in the province to play against each other. He started the 2020 Saskatchewan Mathematics Invitational Tournament, where students and teachers were absorbed in carefully thinking of their every move in order to win.

He is also big in the online math community and became the first classroom teacher to be given the prestigious Margaret Sinclair Memorial Award in 2019, which recognized his innovative work in exploring new methods of teaching mathematics in the digital age.

“In a lot of ways, making and justifying mathematical decisions is a more difficult task. However, children can recognize when they are given an opportunity and they can surprise you if you give them the space. My job is to start where they are and work to build understanding. Students appreciate a classroom centered around this principle,” added Banting.

Aside from teaching math, which Banting considers one of his hobbies, he also spends time with his two kids while coaching football and hockey. He also recently started a chess club at Marion Graham.

Banting moved to Saskatoon to pursue his undergraduate degrees in mathematics and mathematics education. He began teaching for SPS in 2010 and earned his post graduate degree in Secondary Mathematics Education at the University of Alberta in 2017.