Turning Life Calculus into Life Algebra…

My Math Autobiography (a week late)

I totally missed the Math Blogger Initiation Blog time from last week, so I’m making up for it today!

I’ve always assigned a “Math Autobiography” to my Geometry students and I’ve really enjoyed reading them. But I’ve never written about myself! So here’s my (long) story.

I wasn’t always into math. I remember being good at math when I was younger, but I had always enjoyed other subjects (especially art and science) more. Then I got to high school. My teachers encouraged me to take more advanced classes, and I took a summer school course to get ahead. I made it to AP Calc my senior year, and I liked it, but I was still enjoying some other classes more (especially Independent Study Advanced Foods — I got to cook all period!). So I was very surprised when my teachers nominated me for a local math award. I don’t think I had ever realized how good I was at math until then!

Alas, I went onto college as a Biology/Pre-Med major. As part of my degree, I was required to take Calculus. I had passed the AP exam, so I went into Calc II the second semester of my freshman year. My professor, Dr. L., was amazing! She explained everything so well and really got me excited about math. I remember I was enjoying my Calculus class far more than my Biology & Chem classes. That’s when it hit me: I should become a math major! I had never known anyone that went into math, and I didn’t know what anyone would do with a math degree. But I decided to take the plunge! I asked Dr. L. to be my adviser, and we talked about my options. I decided I would take some education classes along with my math classes…

And that didn’t work out so well. It may just have been the prof I had, but that first education course seemed too “fluffy” for me. I decided I would be a pure math major and drop the education degree. Since my school was very small, with not many math majors, I took some independent study courses with my professors. That one-on-one time really made me even more interested in math. After going to a summer REU, I decided I would pursue a further degree in math, so on I went to grad school!

I had an assistantship, and as part of that I was required to teach. We didn’t have any training — I was basically handed a book and told to teach. Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind that first day! I first taught Finite Math, then two levels of Math for Elementary Ed. Majors. While I was teaching the elementary ed. majors, I really fell in love with teaching. I had students who had been scared of math all of their life, and they were the ones who would be teaching children! I really wanted to bring these students around so that they would (hopefully) not pass on this fear to their students. I was putting a lot more effort into teaching than my own studies, and I was enjoying it a lot more! So, of course, I decided I would try to pursue teaching full time.

My friend had told me about an opening at the charter high school where she was teaching. I wasn’t sure about teaching high school, but I thought I would give it a shot. I was lucky that I got the job, especially because I didn’t have an education degree. I had originally thought that I would teach high school for a little while, and then go back to teaching at the college level. But I quickly realized that teaching high school was a perfect fit! I’m now teaching my 5th year at the same school, and I couldn’t be happier. I get to teach a wide range of students and courses, and I have the most supportive colleagues I could imagine. My love for math has only grown since I started teaching, and I hope I can continue for a long, long time.




Calculus & Cupcakes

Lately I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on my high school experience. Maybe because I skipped my 10 year reunion, or maybe because I ran into my avuncular AP Calculus teacher at a conference recently. I try to remember what our class was like, but there’s not much I can recall. I remember my class was very small, so I got a lot of one-on-one attention. I remember working on slope fields while listening to Tupac. I remember my teacher giving us peppermints to help us focus during the AP exam, and I remember the feeling of accomplishment when I got my scores that summer and found out I had passed.

It has really made me think: what do I want my students to remember about my class? If they come back for a reunion in 10 years, what will they be saying about Calculus? I won’t be so vainglorious as to proclaim that all my students will remember every skill I ever taught them, but I do hope for a few things. I hope they remember how to use the chain rule by eating M&M’s. Maybe they’ll still have the quotient rule memorized (that silly little formula gets easily stuck in one’s brain). I hope they remember how beautiful calculus can be, even in its most challenging moments. I hope they feel a sense of accomplishment when looking back, and maybe it’ll even inspire some of them to pursue a career in mathematics.

Although it may not be something I strive for, I know one thing my students will always remember about my class: cupcakes.

Okra cupcakes (just kidding, they’re chocolate)

More about that next time. (Hopefully I’ll be feeling more Hemingway-esque then!)

Hi Math Friends!

Welcome to my little piece of the interwebs! I’ll tell you more about myself later, but for now, I’m working on a deadline!

I’ve been thinking about blogging mathematically for some time, but it was really Sam’s blog initiative that gave me the push I needed. I discovered the mathtwitterblogosphere  just about a month ago and I haven’t looked back since! I happened across Dan Meyer’s blog last year, but it wasn’t until this summer that I clicked a link on his site that magically took me to the math community I could never find at my school. [side note: I literally spent 10 hours that first day reading math blogs because I was so excited about everything I was reading. I even forgot to eat dinner! So excited!] I was very jealous of everyone who connected at tmc12 (I was just a little late for that), but I knew immediately that I wanted to be a part of this community. I didn’t think I had much to add; everyone seemed so much more knowledgeable than me, what could I possibly bring to the table? I’m still not sure what I can bring, but I’m sure I’ll find my way.

Of course I’ve been procrastinating about starting to blog all because I couldn’t figure out what the heck to call this thing. I looked at my facebook page to see if there was anything that stood out, and I happened upon a quote from my friend: “I want a Laplace transform for my life. It would smooth out the discontinuities, fill in the gaps and turn life calculus into life algebra. Life algebra, I can deal with.” I had always loved this idea of a Laplace transform. I have always appreciated ominous looking math problems that, after a long algebraic fight, turn into a nice pretty answer. This was the math that I fell in love with; this is why I became a mathematician. And the idea of having an operation for life, that could take a big scary problem and wrap it up all pretty and neat, was so beautiful and romantic to me that I always hoped it could be true. But maybe that can be a goal for this blog: to find some things that can simplify (and prettify) my teaching, that turn my teaching “calculus” into teaching “algebra.” Here’s hoping I find some!

[above: my favorite t-shirt, trying to analyze love using math. See store.xkcd.com to get one for yourself!]