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Hastings grad a semifinalist for MN Teacher of the Year

Hastings native Kristen Kilpo was recently selected as a semifinalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. She is one of 37 semifinalists that were narrowed down from 132 candidates across the state.

"I was definitely surprised and very humbled by it all because I feel like I work with some really incredible people," Kilpo said.

After graduating from Hasting High School in 2005, she went on to get her degree in teaching mathematics and math from the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Kilpo, daughter of Jerry Smith of Hastings and Doreen Bauer Smith of Inver Grove Heights, is currently a seventh-grade math teacher at Jedlicka Middle School in Proctor. She has been teaching there for seven years.

Kilpo remembers wanting to be a teacher from the time she was 5 or 6 years old. She said she always liked knowing the answers and would help her classmates whenever she could. By the time she got into high school, she started thinking more seriously about what kind of teacher she would be and decided math was her calling.

After struggling in her ninth-grade accelerated math class, she was placed in the regular math class. She worked really hard the following year and was eventually placed back in the accelerated class. She wasn't always a straight-A math student, she said, but she thought that if she could struggle through it maybe she could help other people get through math as well.

 Kilpo said that one of the more innovative things she does in her classroom is her use of the flipped classroom. A traditional classroom consists of students learning in the classroom, taking notes and practicing the concept at home. In a flipped classroom, it is the reverse. Students watch Kilpo explain the concept in a video of the lesson at home as their homework and they practice in the classroom.

"It has completely transformed how I teach," Kilpo said.

She first learned about the flipped style of a classroom at a workshop she attended a few years ago. She decided to give it a try in her own classroom and saw a big difference in her students. When she would teach in the traditional style, her students would go home and completely forget what they learned that day.

"With the flipped way of teaching, I'm not expecting them to do any practice at home," Kilpo said.

She said that she has seen homework completion improve among her students. The only homework they have in her class is to watch the video of her teaching the concept and take notes. The best part about the flipped classroom for her is when her students are able to explain things to each other, which gives them an opportunity to help each other during class.

The most rewarding thing for her as a teacher are the relationships she develops with the kids. Middle school aged kids are at a tough age when it comes to growing up, so Kilpo said that to be there for them is a great feeling.

"I feel grateful to have that role in their lives," Kilpo said.

A panel will review the semifinalists' portfolios at the end of this month and will select about 10 finalists. The 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year will be announced at a banquet May 7 at the Radisson Blu Mall of America in Bloomington.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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