HAPPY NEW YEAR!
First of all, I wish to thank Denise over at Let's play math! for recognizing me as one of her favorite math bloggers. The feeling is mutual Denise and, if I were to have my own list of all-stars you'd be one of them.
However, there's something I've been wanting to do for a long time and that's to provide a forum for bloggers and others to acknowledge and pay tribute to one or more math teachers who made a difference in their lives. I know each of us can think of someone and I'd like to provide a place for this recognition. Truthfully, there should be an entire web site devoted exclusively to this -- you never know! In addition to naming the math educator(s) who had this kind of effect, I would ask you to include a short anecdote.
The 3 teachers who most affected me in my life were my dad, Mrs. Hill from Lincoln High School and Dr. Silvio Aurora from Rutgers University. All have passed on but their impact on me is everlasting. As my students will attest, I mentioned one or more of them in virtually every lesson I ever taught. There were many other outstanding educators I could mention here and I certainly don't mean to slight anyone I've omitted. But these individuals changed my life...
My dad: Although not a teacher in name or by profession, he was nonetheless the greatest teacher I ever knew. To this day, I quote his oft-repeated phrase: "If you understand part-whole relationships you can solve virtually any math problem." I'm paraphrasing this somewhat and clearly it's an overstatement of the central ideas of mathematics, but, for K-12 mathematics, it's not far off. My dad always used the Socratic method of questioning and I know that I have always done the same in the classroom. He seemed to know just the right question to ask, just how much to lead me in the right direction, but never giving it away. He wanted me to discover the ideas for myself and feel the satisfaction of doing it on my own. Moreover, he understood that no matter how simply he explained some concept, I was the one who had to internalize it and make it my own. Oh and he believed in 'practice makes perfect!' He cared deeply about me both on a personal level and in my intellectual development. Whatever I was as a teacher was because of you, Dad. Thank you.
Mrs. Hill: My students will immediately recognize this name! I must have mentioned her thousands of times over the years because every time I use her chart/table methods in solving algebra word problems, I'm paying tribute to her! In her algebra 2 class, back in the fifties, a chart had to be used for rate-time-distance problems, age problems, mixture problems (dry vs. liquid!), etc. This was not optional! In the back of my mind I was thinking I could do these without that rigid structure but I complied until it became an ingrained habit. Fifty years later, I'm still teaching those tried-and-true methods that simply...work. Mrs. Hill was the only math teacher who ever gave out composition notebooks at the beginning of a math course and by the end we had filled it up with every known algebraic formula known at that time or so it seemed! In particular, factoring forms for x^3-y^3, x^5-y^5, x^7-y^7, etc. This would be considered a complete waste of time today by curriculum specialists and experts but the grounding I received was invaluable. It's hard to recognize patterns in mathematics when one has no base of knowledge and she provided that base. Thank you, Mrs. Hill.
Dr. Aurora: My general topology teacher... You taught me how little I knew about mathematics! I came into the class believing I was fairly competent with math and within one or two sessions I realized that I had only the most superficial understanding of mathematical proof. You gave us these innocent looking problem sets of proofs, which, if worked through painstakingly, developed the entire foundation and theory of the course. I feel as though I learned more about set theory after one or two these than from all other math courses combined! Some of the questions appeared impossible even with your cryptic clues. You knew we would work together on these late into the night and you knew the elation we would feel if we could actually get a few done, never mind the entire set. We had a week or so to complete each paper and your critique of our work was always incisive and thorough. Later on, we learned that, when you were at Columbia, you had the responsibility to assess the validity of each new proof of the Pythagorean Theorem that was submitted. I'll never forget your florid face or the oversized handkerchief you took out of your back pocket to wipe the sweat off your brow when lecturing. I know that you were directly responsible for my decision to pursue mathematical research. Thank you, Dr. Aurora.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
HAPPY NEW YEAR!