Monday, May 5, 2014

Love Math?

by Angie Hodge

This year Mathematics Awareness Month made me realize how in love I am with math. I became a teacher because I loved to teach, but recently I discovered I am equally in love with math.

How do we as mathematicians and mathematics educators help others to discover this passion (and in a timely manner, so that students take more mathematics courses)?

I will be the first to admit that Mathematics Awareness Month has never had a lot of meaning to me until this year. So what was so different about this time around? Well, this year I said yes to something (and often more than one something) math-related each week in April. The funny thing is I didn't even realize I had done this until about halfway through the month.

Each event could be a blog post in and of itself, but here are the highlights. Feel free to provide feedback on which events you would like to hear more about in future blogs. We love suggestions!

Dr. Betty Love leading a "Meet the Professor" series
talk on operations research.
At the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO), we kicked off Mathematics Awareness Month by getting to know one of our math professors, Dr. Betty Love, through a "Meet Your Professor" talk. Students got to learn about a UNO math professor both professionally and personally.

The UNO mathematics department also hosted two speakers, Dr. Bob Klein and Dr. Randy Cone. They each gave a "Cool Math Talk" for students and a "Math Teachers' Circle" session for local math teachers. All of these sessions both actively engaged and challenged the audiences.

I also spent four days at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics national conference. The week was filled with ideas to bring into the classroom for both university students and K-12 students. I held a gallery workshop on "Hands-on, Minds-on Calculus." In this workshop, teachers had a chance to try both unguided and guided activities that I do with my own calculus students. This included a game where they worked in groups to match differential equations to slope fields.

Mathematics Awareness Month for me was capped off with a five-day visit to the University of Colorado at Boulder to discuss ways to engage students in the learning of calculus.

Wow, that was a lot of extra-curricular math for one month. Instead of being exhausted from it, though, I was surprisingly re-energized!

This made me think back to my calculus students. For each of our guest speakers at UNO, I had several students who went to both talks (even the one for practicing teachers). For Dr. Klein’s talk, many of the students had spent an hour in the math help room before class, over an hour in class, an hour in Dr. Klein's "Cool Math Talk," and two hours at the Math Teachers' Circle. Then it hit me. They love math. They may not know it yet, but who spends that much time doing anything unless they enjoy it? It also hit me that, you know what? I, too, love math!

There are a few questions that come to mind when I think about this. What was it that held my students attention through so many hours of math events? What was it that made me want to set up and attend these math events? What can we do to help others "fall in love" with math? Here's one thought I had (and I look forward to hearing yours).

What did all of these events have in common? They all involved the audience. Dr. Love used mathematical humor and real life applications to keep the audience members engaged. Dr. Klein was on his toes modifying his sessions to fit his audience. Dr. Cone got the audience engaged in an IBL style competition to lead into each new portion of his talk.

So, what do you do to help others discover a passion for math?

Share your favorite story or technique with us! 

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