UAB Alumna Finds Magic in Math
By Dale Short
Dilhani Uswatte uses innovative methods to help students understand mathematics.
Pop quiz: What do creative dance, geometry, a quarterback sneak, and a video documentary all have in common?
If you’re a student of UAB School of Education alumna Dilhani Uswatte at Berry Middle School in Hoover, the answer is a four-letter word: math. Uswatte’s mission as a teacher, she says, is to help kids see the infinite connections between everyday life and a subject that many of us can’t bear to think about. Her energetic approach to math education has already earned her a prestigious national teaching award and induction into the Alabama Teacher Hall of Fame.
“I believe the traditional way of teaching math was not the best way to lead to understanding,” Uswatte says. “Most of it was rote and memorization, as if answering 30 questions on the same concept could make it somehow ‘stick’ in a student’s mind. But then, the problem was to take that concept and apply it to the real world, which is altogether different.”
The new trend in math, Uswatte says, takes the opposite approach. “Begin with a problem in the real world; the cool part is that so many kids have an immediate gut reaction as to where to start. So the teacher’s job is to build on that intuition. Afterward, you can teach the details that make the solution more efficient, but so often, the basic problem-solving skills are already there.”
UAB Graduation Spans Two Generations
By Rosalind Fournier
Hector DeSimone (right) and his oldest son, James, earned diplomas from UAB on the same day last December.
Hector and Melanie DeSimone believe in bonding. In addition to homeschooling their four children, the DeSimones have done nearly everything together. They've even made attending college a family affair. Hector and his oldest son, James, performed a father-son act at UAB’s fall graduation in December, with Hector earning his master’s degree in engineering, and James receiving his undergraduate degree in biology a few hours later.
The DeSimone-UAB connection goes deeper. Melanie graduated from the university in 1985 with degrees in political science and psychology. The couple’s daughter Fiona, a history major and secondary education minor, graduated in 2008 and is currently teaching in the Tuscaloosa area. Dominic is now a sophomore on campus, pursuing a double major in political science and public relations; the youngest, Julian, is set to begin his studies in the fall.
Hector DeSimone, an architect in UAB’s Design Build Services group, hadn’t originally planned to continue his own education. But he and Melanie always encouraged their children to pursue graduate degrees after college, and it dawned on him that maybe he should take his own advice.
An Inside Look at UAB’s Pediatric Optometry Service
By Caperton Gillett
Optometry resident Nathan Steinhafel examines a seven-month-old patient. The UAB Pediatric Optometry Service sees children from birth up to age 18; it also provides vision therapy for patients of all ages.
Kristine Hopkins, O.D., M.S.P.H., never knows what to expect from her patients when she gives them an eye exam. There’s the occasional spontaneous dance performance, for example, or unsolicited reports on the behavior of family members.
But that’s part of the adventure of being a pediatric optometrist, says Hopkins, chief of vision therapy at UAB Eye Care, the clinical arm of the School of Optometry. “The unpredictability of a four-year-old is what I live for from clinic day to clinic day,” she explains, standing in front of a toy-filled nook painted to resemble a jungle with peeping animal eyes. “It’s a really fun environment.”
It also can be a challenging one. The vast majority of patients in the pediatric optometry service are school-aged or younger, which means many may not be able to read the letters and numbers that make up a standard adult eye exam.
So optometrists like Hopkins rely on tools such as the Electronic Visual Acuity tester (EVA)—a setup with a computer and a TV screen to test young patients’ vision—and toys and videos to keep them occupied. “It’s mostly about having the right equipment to keep them involved,” Hopkins says. “We have to give them targets that are interesting and stimulating.”
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