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Archive of posts filed under the Teaching category.

Keynote: Making Our Mark

In November, I was honored to deliver the teacher keynote at Math for America’s annual Fall Function. Together with Giselle George-Gilkes, we spoke to over 1,600 teachers and guests about the many ways MfA has impacted us and our careers.

I’ve been a Math for America Master Teacher for the past 12 years, and it’s difficult to communicate the breadth and depth of the impact the organization and its community of 1,000 math and science teachers has had on me. I’ve had unique opportunities to learn, lead, and build relationships within New York City and across the country, all in the service of becoming a better teacher and leader.

Here is an excerpt from my speech:

I’ve dedicated myself to both leading and learning as a math teacher. And this community helps prepare me for those challenges every step of the way. This community makes me feel like a professional. A difference maker. And it makes me feel like I always have more to offer, both in and out of the classroom.

You can watch the video of the keynote at MfA’s YouTube page:

And you can find edited version of our speech, “Making Our Mark”, at MfA’s Teacher Voices blog.

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Math at the Deli Counter

The deli counter at the grocery store sometimes offers a poignant glimpse into how the public engages with mathematics.

Whenever I order a fractional quantity of meat or cheese, I prepare myself to manage confusion. When a blank stare lingers at “three-quarters of a pound of ham”, I’ll follow up with “point seven five”. I’ve heard “One-third… What is that?” more than a few times. And a deli employee once asked me if I wanted my two-thirds of a pound of cheese in two bags. Usually my deli experiences go smoothly, but there are some employees with whom I know to skip fractions and immediately go to decimals.

None of this bothers me; if anything, it reminds me that fractions really are one of the first walls people hit when learning mathematics. And it increases my empathy for those who obviously weren’t helped enough when they first hit that wall, and still struggle to get over it as adults.

I’ve also witnessed math-shaming in this situation. “Yes. Point seven five. Three-quarters is 0.75. You don’t know what three-quarters is?” As rude as this behavior is, I can’t help but sympathize a little with the shamers themselves: what mathematical experiences have they had that makes them feel the need to use math to belittle others? Sadly, I think I know at least part of the answer to that question.

It’s important for those who of us who see math as a source of pleasure and power to remember that, for many, it can be a source of confusion and, sometimes, shame.

2017 — My Year in Math

Dan Meyer recently shared a fun and telling graph describing his year in math. Inspired by Dan’s idea, and by a Math for America workshop with data visualization innovator Mona Chalabi, I created my own Year in Math entry. Though the real inspiration, I guess, came from the world events that made me want to read more books and less internet.

You can find more takes on the Year in Math theme on Twitter.

I think this could make for a fun student project. I hope the students agree!

The (Math) Problem with Pentagons — Quanta Magazine

My latest column for Quanta Magazine is about the recent classification of pentagonal tilings of the plane. Tilings involving triangles, quadrilaterals, and more have been well-understood for over a thousand years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that the question of which pentagons tile the plane was completely settled.

Here’s an excerpt.

People have been studying how to fit shapes together to make toys, floors, walls and art — and to understand the mathematics behind such patterns — for thousands of years. But it was only this year that we finally settled the question of how five-sided polygons “tile the plane.” Why did pentagons pose such a big problem for so long?

In my column I explore some of the reasons that certain kinds of pentagons might, or might not, tile the plane. It’s a fun exercise in elementary geometry, and a glimpse into a complex world of geometric relationships.

The full article is freely available here.

Investigating the Math Behind Biased Maps

My latest piece for the New York Times Learning Network gets students investigating the mathematics of gerrymandering.  Through applying geometry, proportionality, and the efficiency gap, students explore the notion of a “workable standard” for identifying and evaluating biased electoral maps.

Here is an excerpt:

Math lies at the heart of gerrymandering, in which the shapes of voting districts and distributions of voters are manipulated to preserve and expand political power.

The strategy of gerrymandering is not new… However, new, sophisticated mathematical and computer mapping tools have made gerrymandering an even more powerful way to tilt the playing field. In many states, where the majority party has the authority to rewrite the electoral map, legislators essentially have the power to choose their voters — to create districts in any shape or size that will weaken their opponents and increase their dominance.

In this lesson, we help students uncover the mathematics behind these biased electoral maps. And, we help them apply their mathematical knowledge to identify and address the problem.

In fact, the questions students will work through are similar to those the Supreme Court is now considering on whether gerrymandering can ever be declared unconstitutional.

The article was co-authored with Michael Gonchar of the NYT Learning Network, and is freely available here.

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