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Spotlight on a teacher: Hands-on experiences help kids learn

by Stacey Francois

What’s the difference between a teacher and a train? One says “Spit out your gum,” and the other says “Choo choo!”

This may not be a great joke, but it’s one that Carson Valley Middle School teacher Tom Blotter may appreciate. Blotter is an 8th and 9th grade math teacher, and said that he likes to use humor in his classroom.

“I think students are stressed by math. It’s an intimidating subject. The humor relieves a lot of that stress, and my students listen more because they do not want to miss one of my fabulous jokes!”

Blotter’s hobbies include hiking, mountain biking, fishing, backpacking and back country skiing, and he’s also the advisor for the CVMS fishing club. When he’s not outdoors enjoying his hobby of fishing with his students, he may be planning their spring Washington D.C. trip since he is the trip leader.

Originally from Palm Springs, Calif., Blotter became a teacher 13 years ago after spending time as a Boy Scout leader, and “enjoying it a lot.” He’s lived in Douglas County for nine years and spends his free time with his wife Shelley and their young daughter Kelsey.

One of the unique aspects about Blotter’s classroom is his hatching of Lahontan cutthroat trout eggs, a threatened species. The class spends eight hours in the fall, and another eight in the spring learning about the trout in the Trout in the Classroom program.

The students place 200-300 eggs into an incubator in the classroom and watch them grow before releasing them into the east fork of the Carson River. Blotter said that there’s only a 5 percent survival rate to adulthood of the eggs, and his students are learning first-hand about this “natural phenomenon.”

Learning with a hands-on experiment makes more of an impact than reading about it, believes Blotter, and the students are able to see math used in a real world situation.

“After all,” said Blotter, “math is the way we explain and model our natural environment.”

When asked what parents can do at home to support their math abilities at school, Blotter said for parents to give their children some financial responsibility.

“Put them in charge of coupons or a search of the best price on a capital good. Give them some sort of renumeration that is proportional to the savings realized.”

Finally, Blotter says, the new competencies have really focused him, and he’s concentrating on getting his students ready for high school math.

“At my level, students are not just reviewing what they’ve had before,” he said. “I want them to have a sneak preview of what they will have.”

And maybe a joke or two along with it.