Pearl City’s Fukumoto Wins Prestigious National Math Award

Laura Fukumoto

Laura Fukumoto

Pearl City resident Laura Fukumoto, a fifth-grade teacher at Aliamanu Elementary School, has won the national Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, and it isn’t hard to see why.

Fukumoto designs her own math lessons in order to reach each student and stretch their thinking. She incorporates strong visual strategies that help them see, touch and learn abstract math.

She also creates Power-Point slideshows that present math concepts strategically.

“My room is equipped with math manipulatives and e-pads (electronic click-ers) that I received from grants,” explained Fukumoto.

Although she excels at teaching mathematics in her classroom, Fukumoto noted that she was not always a fan of teaching the material.

“Although I loved math as a student, I hated teaching it,” she said. “I thought it was dry and boring, not realizing that I was not teaching mathematics but just arithmetic.

“I became intensely interested in math when I realized that many students, parents and teachers of all ages do not like math and were hammered by it. To them, math is too abstract, makes little sense, makes them feel inadequate and is something they weren’t born to do.”

Fukumoto understood that for many, math had damaged the students’ respect for numbers and had an ill effect on their self-esteem.

She recalled that her own failures and insecurities as a student played a key role in why she loves teaching.

“My own struggles as a student and as a beginning teacher have birthed in me a deep dedication to my students and colleagues … as well as with a keen sensitivity to the human heart and its strong need for self-respect,” Fukumoto added.

“Only my genuine love for children, commitment to hard work, and stubbornness caused me to overcome my shortcomings and continue to pursue teaching.”

Her mission was to help students, parents and teachers fall in love with math and realize that it is both fascinating and logical.

“To do this successfully, my challenge was to make math something one can see, touch and do,” she explained. “Math allowed me to refine the artistry and science of my teaching.”

Her desire to instill this knowledge and wonder in those around her led to her nomination and eventual earning of the Excellence in Mathematics accolade. As part of the award, Fukumoto and the other state winners have received $10,000 from the National Science Foundation. Later this year, a ceremony honoring them will be held in Washington, D.C.

“I was on a trip in Spain when I checked my school email on Dec. 21 and learned that I won the Presidential Award (for mathematics),” said Fukumoto, who has been teaching at Aliamanu since 1967.

“My first response was to cry a bucket of tears. I felt touched that anyone would acknowledge or even honor the hard work of teachers.

“I guess teachers do their very best each and every day without thinking of recognition. When their efforts are even slightly noticed, they are truly grateful and are inspired to do even more.”