Courtney’s Math AutobiographyMentors & Moments from my math history
OverviewMath has always been an enjoyable subject for me. I liked the idea ofbeing able to find an answer to a solution and get the satisfaction ofknowing I did it “right.” For my entire math career, I was taught in avery traditional way, so I am surprised I like math as much as I do. Iwas in accelerated math classes starting in fifth grade all the waythrough high school. What I am starting to realize now is that I wasreally good at memorizing algorithms and “doing the math” so Ialways got an A in math class. When forced to really think throughthe “why” of math, I feel like I don’t really understand it as well as Ithought I did. I want my future students to deeply and fullyunderstand math concepts, so I am taking it upon myself to relearnmath so that I can teach them in a better way than I was taught.
My mom & dad My earliest math mentors are my mom and dad. They always took the time to help me (or try to help me) with my own math homework, even when it started to become more complicated and they didn’t really know how to help. My mom has always said she likes math and even took some classes to become an accountant for a while. Because she liked math, I always knew it was okay to be a girl and like math. I never felt like I needed to “dumb down” my own math knowledge in order to fit in.
Timed TestsI absolutely loved timed tests! At home, my parents did flashcards with me andtaught me little tricks to remember the answers. I was so excited when I passeda timed test and got to move on to the next level. I was never competitive withother people - just myself. Looking back now, I don’t think that speed should beoverly emphasized in mathematics. I just happen to have a very good memoryand have a knack for memorizing things. I don’t think this makes me any betterat math, though, than someone else who still works on a problem, just at aslower speed. What I would like to incorporate into my classroom is some wayfor students to compete against themselves and feel internally motivated to dobetter. I also think I liked the fact that there were levels to pass in timed tests -perhaps I can incorporate games and gaming into my math curriculum for thosestudents who like to “beat the levels.”
The test that woulddetermine my future...In 4th grade, I was recommended by my teacher to take the test that woulddetermine whether or not I would be placed in an advanced math class the nextyear. I just barely passed the test, so it was up to my parents and I to decided ifI wanted to be in the advanced class. We decided that I could try it out and seehow it went. There were just four of us in the fifth grade at my school who werein the class, so we met as a small group a few times a week. On my thirdquarter report card of that year, my teacher wrote that I was understandingconcepts separately, but was having a hard time seeing how they are connectedas a whole. From there, I ended up making much more progress and stayed onthe advanced math track. The most bizarre part of the whole thing was thatwe were often pulled out of language arts or other classes besides math becausewe had to work around the schedule of the gifted and talented teacher. I didn’tlike having to make up work in other subjects that I missed because I was pulledout for math. While I was glad to be in the advanced math class, I don’t like thefact that my classes were tracked starting in middle school. This has made mecontemplate how all students can be challenged, but in another way thantracking.
Drama in MathIn 6th grade, one of our math assignments was to create some sort of dramapiece from a mathematical property. My group was assigned the associativeproperty. We decided to create a skit about three friends. Two of the friendswere best friends, but then they got in a fight, so one of the friends decided tomake a new best friend. The pair of best friends was supposed to be like thenumbers inside the parentheses and the switch of the best friend was supposed toshow the switching of the parentheses. It was too complicated to follow, though,so nobody could guess what property we were describing. Besides that, though, itwas very exciting to be doing something a little bit different in math. We alwaysdid the same thing each day. In my own classroom, I want to establish routines,but also use a range of creative activities to change it up and make math anexciting subject to learn.
Small group work timeIn 7th grade, we were taught in a very traditional manner. Each day wentexactly the same: First, a copy of the answers from the teacher’s manual wasplaced on the overhead so we could correct our papers. Then, we would give ourscore to the teacher and she would record it in her grade book. After that, wewould have our lesson for the day where our teacher would stand at thewhiteboard and lecture for the most part. But after that, the exciting parthappened. We were allowed to work on the homework assignment in smallgroups. In all my previous classes, we had to sit at our desk and work on ourassignment individually. In this class, though, we could sit where ever we wantedand do the homework. What I learned from this is that math is more fun whenyou can move around the room and sit on the floor, if you want, instead of yourdesk. What I would change, though, is the structure of the small groups. Weoften didn’t actually do any of our homework - we would just sit and chat. Iwant students in my classroom to actually use each other as resources and thinkthrough mathematical concepts together.
Larry HendersonMy freshman year of high school, I was in Algebra II and Mr. Henderson was myteacher. At the end of the year, he was one of my favorite teachers. He alwaysheld high expectations of us and was phenomenal in explaining content. After wegot to know him, he started to joke around with us and made class fun. Forexample, when I had him again my senior year of high school he would playcalculus songs for us. Before every single test, he would say, “Good luck, not thatyou need it.” He always portrayed a sense of confidence in us, and even if youdidn’t do so well on a test or assignment, he would never make you feel like youfailed. He always said he wanted to use tests as learning opportunities, so afterevery test you could redo the problems and meet with him to explain why you gota question wrong and how you would do it differently. If you could explain it well,you would get half of the credit back. I want to be a teacher that, like Mr.Henderson, makes my students feel confident and comfortable.
AP Calc ABCMy junior year of high school, I was in PDM and on track to doCalc AB my senior year. My PDM teacher recommended me fora pilot program for the next year where I would take Calc ABand BC all in one year instead of two. The class was named CalcABC and there were 7 of us in the class. I had Mr. Henderson,the same teacher I had my freshman year. This was myfavorite math class I have ever had. It was such a small groupof us that we really became a learning community and relied oneach other. Even though my future classes will most likely belarge, I want to create these same sense of community betweenmy students by dividing the class into smaller groups thatregularly meet so they can get to know each other really wellover the course of the year.
Michael Loper One of my really good friends during middle school and high school was Michael Loper. He was in my advanced math classes with me and is a genius! He went to UW Madison my sophomore year and helped me with my math homework. I was in Calculus III and had a professor I could barely understand. I had such a hard time in the class. Loper would come over once a week and help me with my math homework, taking the time to re-explain the concepts and guide me to understanding. Originally he planned on majoring in engineering, but has now decided to become a high school math teacher, which is what I told him he should do all along! Loper’s patience and genuine enthusiasm for math are two teacher traits I want to carry with me.