On Being a Math Person
by Barbara Frailey, Assistant Head of School
I've always considered myself a "math person." I had some great teachers, beginning in late elementary school, who helped me connect with my mathematical curiosity, and helped me see my own capabilities. I loved the satisfaction that came with unraveling juicy math problems, but I especially appreciated the opportunity for creative thinking and problem solving that math provided.
Having confidence in math helped me feel secure that I had access to an important tool that would help me understand the world better. I wasn't intimidated by data, for example, and I didn't feel "shut out" of any conversations or any possible career paths. At the time, being a girl who loved math and was recognized for being "good at it" made me feel special, and sadly, atypical. By the time I was finishing high school, I figured I would not choose a math-related career, mainly because my perception of those fields didn't match the more socially-connected vision I held for my adult life. But I stuck with it, double majoring in math and women's studies in college. While there, unsurprisingly, I developed a more feminist perspective on the study of math, studying research on math anxiety in girls, and getting a more nuanced understanding of why and how women have been underrepresented in math-related fields.
Last week I shared my "math story" with the girls at a school-wide Community Meeting. In my presentation, I also talked about Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the prestigious Fields Medal, which is basically the math equivalent of the Nobel Prize. In middle school she struggled with math, but her curiosity was ignited when her older brother introduced her to an elegant solution to a classic problem, a version of the "fist bump" problem that our 7th graders tackled just a few weeks ago! From there, she has pursued a career in which, by working across different subfields of pure mathematics, she has provided valuable insights that have changed people's understandings in math and in related fields like physics and engineering.
I shared Maryam Mirzakhani's story, as well as my own, with our students because I've always seen the power children and teens have to turn themselves on or off to math, and not much breaks my heart as much as hearing an 11-year-old girl tell me, "I'm not good at math," or, "Math class is boring." At SGS we foster a growth mindset in math, and in all areas, by demystifying the process of learning, not just celebrating results. We work to develop deep mathematical understanding in all students, rather than simply emphasizing procedures or steps to follow to solve rote problems.
This morning, beginning algebra students, otherwise known as our 7th graders, used algebra lab gear to begin to visualize expressions like (x + 2)(2x + 1), so that factoring polynomic expressions will make sense to them! Meanwhile, our 8th graders were taking data they'd collected during their "Barbie Bungee" experiments (seeing how far Barbie jumps, relative to the number or rubber bands in the chain she's connected to -- huge fun), creating graphs, looking for an accurate equation, and trying to predict how many rubber bands Barbie would need to jump from the top of the 6th grade Library without hitting the ground. They're all learning how to solve problems, but they're doing it in a way that's closely tied to meaning, with an emphasis on collaboration and joy.
Having a strong math background, I believe, has helped make me a better educator, but it has also helped me interpret the news, make responsible decisions, and participate fully in a democratic society. I want the same for all our students. I hope you can join me and our extraordinary math faculty on Thursday, November 6, from 6:00 to 7:30, to learn more about our approach to math teaching and learning here at SGS.
SGS Parents and Guardians are invited to Math Night! Join the math department on Thursday, Nov. 6, from 6-7:30 PM to learn about the math program and how to support your student in math.
SGS Math Night
SGS students and siblings are welcome to attend the game room space in the 8th grade library during the event.
Important Phone Numbers:
Main Line: (206) 709-2228
Attendance Line (before 8 AM): (206) 805-6500
Aftercare Line: (206) 805-6555
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