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A Mathematical Magician: Richard Decker Receives Banking Endowed Teaching Chair award

Monday, June 29, 2015

This is the third in a series of four Endowed Teaching Chair 2014 stories.

Transforming apprehension into appreciation, chaos into clarity, and ennui into enthusiasm, Richard Decker performs magic in his classroom every day. Lifting the misty veil from the often mysterious subject of math, his knowledge, zeal, and caring has unleashed the power of his students to discover their own potential, and has earned him the prestigious Banking Endowed Teaching Chair award for 2014.

DeckerSince his debut at Polk State College in 2006, this Professor of Mathematics has had an extraordinary devotion to making a difference in his students’ lives.

Decker’s ability to present math in an inviting and engaging – and understandable — way, and his tireless commitment to student success, has earned him praises from his admiring colleagues, and from students who discover in his classroom that math can be enjoyable and relevant.

“I feel good anytime I can help a student who feels intimidated by math become confident in their mathematical ability – helping them to believe in themselves,” he said. “And for students who are already confident and interested in math, I like challenging and encouraging them to take it to the next level by reading books on the subject.”

Decker, a voracious reader, leads by example. Long after class is over, he delves into the shelves at bookstores and libraries. “I am a lifelong learner – I’m constantly reading in my spare time, math and science books that provide ideas I can share,” he said. “I believe, to be an effective teacher, you have to be into what you’re doing, and you have to be knowledgeable of the material,” he added.

With the material unearthed in these books, Decker develops supplemental materials for his classroom, creating over 70 pages of original notes that go above and beyond the textbook by incorporating concepts not found within them.

Decker says he believes in using humor, showing compassion, and teaching in a straightforward way in his classroom. At the same time, he sets the highest standards for his students, and does everything possible in and out of the classroom to enable students to reach those goals.

He is devoted to using the learner-centered method, and makes extensive use of learner-centered teaching strategies in his classroom. “It is extremely important to my philosophy of teaching,” he said.

Under his leadership in the classroom, math concepts are invigorated into exciting possibilities for the real world, whether he is teaching young students, or ones who have been in the workforce and want to advance their career through education.

For example, in his statistics classes, to show that statistics can be applied everywhere, all the questions and problems are based on real world data, including test questions.

“A lot of students bring in problems from their job, so they are contributing to the community. They learn to solve those problems while they’re still in school. It enables them to become a manager or to become a better manager. This immediately benefits the community by providing better management to their company,” he said.

Decker has positively impacted the entire Math Department with his hard work and dedication. When Polk’s Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Supervision and Management program was created, Decker volunteered to assist with the development of a new Quantitative Methods in Business course, playing a large part in its development and implementation. He teaches one or two classes of this each term and, true to form, constantly strives to perfect the course and holds his students to university caliber standards.

His passionate devotion to learner-centered education makes him a natural fit with the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at PolkState, which involves improving success in mathematics. Decker was one of the first volunteers to participate in the QEP workshops, and has been very active in its implementation, applying the QEP principles of helping students to become responsible learners. As a charter member of the QEP, he also tries to help professors new to the QEP and adjunct professors become more learner-centered.

Decker is also the co-founder and advisor of the Math Club on the Lakeland campus, which is open to all students and is designed to create enthusiasm and interest in mathematics.

Decker also has traveled widely to various local and national conferences to make presentations on such topics as “Butterflies in My Classroom: Student Anxiety and the Learning Process” and “Motivation and Engagement for an Interactive Classroom.” Most recently, in April 2014, Decker presented “Relativity for Everyone!” on Professional Development Day at PolkState, and at the International Conference on Teaching and Learning in Jacksonville. He also shared his knowledge at the 2010 FTYCMA conference held on the Lakeland campus and at the joint MAA and FTYCMA conference in Jacksonville in 2012.

In addition to the Endowed Teaching Chair Award, Decker was honored in 2009 at the International Conference on Teaching and Learning in Jacksonville. He was nominated by his peers and given the Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Technology at that event.

Richard Decker earned an Associate’s degree from Westchester Community College and a Bachelor’s in Mathematics and Master’s in Mathematics/Statistics from the University of South Florida.  He is using his Endowed Teaching Chair award funds to obtain more technology to communicate better with his online students, and to make an upgrade in mobility.