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- 1. Courtney’s Math Autobiography Mentors & Moments from my math history
- 2. Overview Math has always been an enjoyable subject for me. I liked the idea of being able to find an answer to a solution and get the satisfaction of knowing I did it “right.” For my entire math career, I was taught in a very traditional way, so I am surprised I like math as much as I do. I was in accelerated math classes starting in fifth grade all the way through high school. What I am starting to realize now is that I was really good at memorizing algorithms and “doing the math” so I always got an A in math class. When forced to really think through the “why” of math, I feel like I don’t really understand it as well as I thought I did. I want my future students to deeply and fully understand math concepts, so I am taking it upon myself to relearn math so that I can teach them in a better way than I was taught.
- 3. 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.
- 4. Timed Tests I absolutely loved timed tests! At home, my parents did flashcards with me and taught me little tricks to remember the answers. I was so excited when I passed a timed test and got to move on to the next level. I was never competitive with other people - just myself. Looking back now, I don’t think that speed should be overly emphasized in mathematics. I just happen to have a very good memory and have a knack for memorizing things. I don’t think this makes me any better at math, though, than someone else who still works on a problem, just at a slower speed. What I would like to incorporate into my classroom is some way for students to compete against themselves and feel internally motivated to do better. 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 those students who like to “beat the levels.”
- 5. The test that would determine my future... In 4th grade, I was recommended by my teacher to take the test that would determine whether or not I would be placed in an advanced math class the next year. I just barely passed the test, so it was up to my parents and I to decided if I wanted to be in the advanced class. We decided that I could try it out and see how it went. There were just four of us in the fifth grade at my school who were in the class, so we met as a small group a few times a week. On my third quarter report card of that year, my teacher wrote that I was understanding concepts separately, but was having a hard time seeing how they are connected as a whole. From there, I ended up making much more progress and stayed on the advanced math track. The most bizarre part of the whole thing was that we were often pulled out of language arts or other classes besides math because we had to work around the schedule of the gifted and talented teacher. I didn’t like having to make up work in other subjects that I missed because I was pulled out for math. While I was glad to be in the advanced math class, I don’t like the fact that my classes were tracked starting in middle school. This has made me contemplate how all students can be challenged, but in another way than tracking.
- 6. Drama in Math In 6th grade, one of our math assignments was to create some sort of drama piece from a mathematical property. My group was assigned the associative property. We decided to create a skit about three friends. Two of the friends were best friends, but then they got in a fight, so one of the friends decided to make a new best friend. The pair of best friends was supposed to be like the numbers inside the parentheses and the switch of the best friend was supposed to show the switching of the parentheses. It was too complicated to follow, though, so nobody could guess what property we were describing. Besides that, though, it was very exciting to be doing something a little bit different in math. We always did 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 an exciting subject to learn.
- 7. Small group work time In 7th grade, we were taught in a very traditional manner. Each day went exactly the same: First, a copy of the answers from the teacher’s manual was placed on the overhead so we could correct our papers. Then, we would give our score to the teacher and she would record it in her grade book. After that, we would have our lesson for the day where our teacher would stand at the whiteboard and lecture for the most part. But after that, the exciting part happened. We were allowed to work on the homework assignment in small groups. In all my previous classes, we had to sit at our desk and work on our assignment individually. In this class, though, we could sit where ever we wanted and do the homework. What I learned from this is that math is more fun when you can move around the room and sit on the floor, if you want, instead of your desk. What I would change, though, is the structure of the small groups. We often didn’t actually do any of our homework - we would just sit and chat. I want students in my classroom to actually use each other as resources and think through mathematical concepts together.
- 8. Larry Henderson My freshman year of high school, I was in Algebra II and Mr. Henderson was my teacher. At the end of the year, he was one of my favorite teachers. He always held high expectations of us and was phenomenal in explaining content. After we got to know him, he started to joke around with us and made class fun. For example, when I had him again my senior year of high school he would play calculus songs for us. Before every single test, he would say, “Good luck, not that you need it.” He always portrayed a sense of confidence in us, and even if you didn’t do so well on a test or assignment, he would never make you feel like you failed. He always said he wanted to use tests as learning opportunities, so after every test you could redo the problems and meet with him to explain why you got a 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.
- 9. AP Calc ABC My junior year of high school, I was in PDM and on track to do Calc AB my senior year. My PDM teacher recommended me for a pilot program for the next year where I would take Calc AB and BC all in one year instead of two. The class was named Calc ABC and there were 7 of us in the class. I had Mr. Henderson, the same teacher I had my freshman year. This was my favorite math class I have ever had. It was such a small group of us that we really became a learning community and relied on each other. Even though my future classes will most likely be large, I want to create these same sense of community between my students by dividing the class into smaller groups that regularly meet so they can get to know each other really well over the course of the year.
- 10. 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.