An amateur flying trapeze artist and former engineer who is constantly on the move even in the classroom, Kyle Mackey has plenty of energy and enthusiasm to keep middle school students engaged, and perhaps even reconsider their opinion of math.
Mr. Mackey hadn’t exactly dreamed of teaching when he began his career. He started out working civil engineering for the State Highway Administration of Maryland, spending hours at a time on the road and traveling every inch of Maryland. But when his rotation there was up, he moved into an office position, and found it tedious--one might even say, after listening to him, that he found it suffocating. He knew he needed a profession that was going to carry more meaning, allow more freedom, and provide an outlet for his creativity and outgoing nature.
An unexpected path crept into his life when his mother began taking a college class and needed some help in math. Mr. Mackey began tutoring her, and she was so impressed with how good he was at it, she suggested he explore teaching.
Taking her words to heart, Mr. Mackey applied to teach at Prince George’s County Public Schools on Friday September 17, 2004, received an email from them two days later and a call from the principal on Monday, interviewed Tuesday, and started teaching Algebra I on Wednesday, September 22nd. The classes had been handled by substitutes up to that point, and Mr. Mackey came in with no lesson plans and no experience.
“That first year was a rough year,” he admits. “I didn’t know anything about lesson plans. When I was in high school (I went to a science and tech school), I just thought the teachers did what I did [as a student]. They just showed up and started talking!”
However, Mr. Mackey adapted quickly and began working on his secondary education certification that following January, earning it in December of 2007. He took 28 college credits over those two years while teaching full-time and creating lesson plans from scratch. To top off the challenge, he “floated” from classroom to classroom for three years, but he is grateful for that experience, and in fact he now thinks every first year teacher should have to float for a year. “You learn to truly plan,” he explains. “You learn to always be prepared. It also gives you a better understanding of what the kids are going through as they are changing classes. You don’t pressure them the same way about forgetting things, because you do forget things. It happens.”
Mr. Mackey believes that he came into teaching at just the right time, when the technology was beginning to invade the classrooms. His B.S. in physics and engineering and his M.Ed. in instructional technology meant that he didn’t just go with the flow, he rode the wave with enthusiasm. “It helps me. My classroom is interesting, it’s dynamic, it’s not static,” he says.
After a quick warm-up activity each day, Mr. Mackey likes to challenge his students with riddles, which he believes helps them move into thinking in a way that is helpful with word problems, one of the most disliked math topics.
“Everybody hates fractions, and everybody hates word problems,” he says. “Middle school is where we refine those skills. Word problems are always good because they make people think. Word problems are so tough, but they get you in the habit of reading and analyzing the facts.”
For some lessons, Mr. Mackey uses PowerPoint presentations with a fun little character named Sparky assisting. There is a bit of typical desk work you might expect in a math class, but it is minimal. Interactive technology keeps the lessons moving, with the students using sites like Kahoot to practice. Mr. Mackey also uses Khan Academy to “flip the classroom,” a concept where the students watch the lesson the night before, then spend the day in class working projects or solving problems.
Mr. Mackey also likes to create projects that get the students out of the classroom. For example, he sends them out on a scavenger hunt where they solve a problem, then go look for the answer that matches. Once they find it, they also find a letter to solve the word puzzle he’s given them, as well as the next equation to solve.
When Mr. Mackey is not educating young minds, he can be found spending time with his wife Michelle and their three children, possibly playing adult kickball, or swinging about on a flying trapeze. In the summer, you can find him next to the pool, but he won’t be lounging about (that would be too boring); he has spent the last 20+ summers as a lifeguard.
- M.Ed., Instructional Technology, Cambridge College
- B.S., Engineering Physics, Morgan State University
- Secondary Education Certification, Prince George’s Community College
- Courses: Algebra I, Pre-Algebra, Math Plus
- R-MA Mentor; Head Coach, Middle School Boys' Basketball, Intramural Golf