Longtime Math Instructor Wins Prestigious Statewide Award

FVCC’s Fred Longhart named Dean Preble honoree, also won 1995 Presidential Award as Flathead High teacher

By Myers Reece
Flathead Valley Community College math professor Fred Longhart is pictured in front of the college’s “Pi Wall” on Oct. 31, 2019. Longhart recently received the Dean Preble Memorial Award, a high statewide honor. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

As president of the Montana Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM) in 2000, Fred Longhart handed out the first Dean Preble Memorial Award. It never occurred to him that he might one day be on the receiving end.

But two decades later, Longhart, a math instructor at Flathead Valley Community College (FVCC), is the recipient of the 2019 Dean Preble award, which FVCC called in an announcement the MCTM’s “most prestigious recognition” that is “awarded annually to a Montana educator who has consistently assumed a leadership role in the discipline.”

“I never expected to get it myself,” Longhart said.

Longhart joins his late wife Karen, who passed away in 2010, as Dean Preble awardees. Both Longharts were also recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation’s highest honor for K-12 math teachers. Longhart won that award in 1995, and he spent a week in Washington D.C., where Hillary Clinton presented him with the honor.

“There aren’t many husbands and wives who have won it,” Longhart said.

Longhart is known for his commitment to incorporating technology into math curriculum. Before joining FVCC, he spent two decades as a math teacher at Flathead High School, where he and Karen were among the first teachers nationwide to begin using handheld graphing calculators in the classroom in 1989. He was also a longtime instructor for a Texas Instruments program called Teachers Teaching with Technology — or T³ — and traveled around the country giving workshops.

Despite three decades of technological advancement, including the ubiquity of laptops and smart devices, Longhart still uses graphing calculators in his classroom, noting both their reliability and accessibility. They can be purchased relatively cheaply or rented for a small fee each semester, and they ably perform all necessary functions for his coursework.

Teachers at all grade levels, from kindergarten through university, are eligible for the MCTM award, given out annually in tribute to Dean Preble, “a longtime MCTM member and a passionate advocate for excellence in mathematics education” who passed away in 1998, according to FVCC.

“The MCTM selection committee is honored to recognize Mr. Longhart both for his leadership role in math education and for his commitment to providing thousands of students the best possible math instruction,” MCTM committee chair and member Cliff Bara said in a statement.

Longhart teaches two courses at FVCC: pre-calculus and probability and linear math. He received the award at MCTM’s annual meeting on Oct. 18 in Belgrade. A post on FVCC’s Facebook page announcing the news was flooded with likes and comments from former students praising Longhart’s excellence as a teacher and impact on their lives.

Longhart believes mathematics are as relevant if not more imperative than ever, with numerous technology careers, as well as fields such as engineering and physics, relying on the discipline’s language and principles. Moreover, Longhart still loves what he does, and his students don’t want him to go anywhere, thanks to both his teaching ability and philosophy of making math fun by deemphasizing the traditional lecture-and-note-taking paradigm and incorporating hands-on classroom activities.

“I hope to hang around a few more years,” he said. “I always tell people, ‘If my evaluations go south, I’ll go with them. If they stay OK, I’d like to stick with it.’ I still enjoy it a lot, and if I stop enjoying it, I think that will reflect on my students. I think students can tell if you don’t like your job.”

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