I started preschool when I was two years old then skipped kindergarten starting first grade at five years old. I don’t remember much of that early learning, but I do remember puzzles and playing music. My mom is a musician, and she started me on violin (Suzuki method) at the age of three. I grew up knowing how to read music on the violin, and I think that might have been an important step in my brain’s development that led to my understanding of math and science (thanks mom). Music is all math and science.
I do remember doing math in the early elementary years, and it was always easy. I had good number sense. The first few years of elementary school were a breeze, and the only thing I got in trouble for was singing or humming in class. I understood place value and basic computation. I learned multiplication and division with no problem. After third grade, my mom decided I should repeat third grade so I could be with my age group, and I did fourth grade work. I scored in the genius category on IQ tests and took GT classes through elementary and middle school. Again, I don’t remember much about those years, or particularly liking math at that time, but I do remember it being easy. My mom called me a walking telephone book because I could always remember phone numbers with ease (the same is true for today except that with iPhones I do admit I don’t know everyone’s phone numbers like the old days in the 1970s-80s). But I’ve always had a good memory for numbers and patterns.
Looking back at my high school transcript (Class of 1986 Go Lancers!) I can see why my guidance counselor advised me to pursue a major in French and then return to the Washington, DC area to work at the state department as a translator. I took four years of French and got two B+s and two As. Only three years of math were required back then, so I only did the bare minimum. I got a B in Algebra 1 (ninth grade), a B in Geometry (tenth grade), and a C in Algebra 2/Trigonometry (eleventh grade). Everything got confusing once we got to logarithms. I don’t remember having hatred or dislike toward math, but I don’t remember particularly liking it either. My m.o. back then was to do ok academically and still have a social life and a love life. I did gymnastics and cheerleading and played soccer. I talked a lot in class and was a social butterfly even back then. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I took my counselor’s advice and started my freshman year at Hollins College as a French major. Nobody made me take a math class that year. I did take computer science and programming, which is mathematical, but there was no other math requirement that year. My sophomore year, I did an exchange program at Washington & Lee University. There, I switched my major to Philosophy & Religion. I took a music appreciation class, but again, no math class. I took my junior year off and worked for Greenpeace USA in DC then completed a Spring Semester in the Rockies with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). After that, I transferred to Prescott College and changed my major again to Environmental Studies. I minored in Outdoor Education and Liberal Arts. I passed the math proficiency test there and didn’t have to take any math classes (the proficiency test is equivalent to college algebra).
I graduated from Marymount University with my master’s degree in education (M.Ed. PreK-8) and became a teacher. My first position was sixth grade, all subjects in Reno, Nevada. Sixth grade deals with a lot of fractions and decimals, yet many of the students were below grade level and still working on memorizing multiplication and division tables. That is when I first started to take an interest in math education. It was a challenge to teach sixth grade skills when kids lacked knowledge they should know from previous years. I moved to Virginia and worked as a sixth grade teacher in Fairfax County teaching math, science, and health in a Gifted/Talented Center. G/T Centers are 24/7 G/T all subjects grades 3-6. Highly gifted kids learn third and fourth grade math in third grade, fifth grade math in fourth grade, sixth grade math in fifth grade, and seventh and eighth grade math in sixth grade. That’s when I found my niche. I taught seventh and eighth grade math compacted into one year to highly gifted sixth graders, preparing some of them for Algebra 1 in seventh grade. Most of the kids progressed to Honors Math 7 and then to Algebra 1 in eighth grade. FCPS has several different math tracks, and they do a great job of offering enrichment and advancement in mathematics to those are are able. While that is a small percentage of the general population, it is an excellent way to let those students who excel in math to move ahead and take college math in high school. It was fast paced and challenging. I received professional development to prepare me and assist me, and I fell in love with math! Being an adult in a math classroom was a completely different experience than being a child in a math classroom. With my background in science, it all made sense and I was able to make more connections to the real world. Because of my background as a gifted learner, I was a good combination with the gifted kids. In addition to the fast paced curriculum, the kids did enrichment projects like City of Lights (scale models of DC buildings wired to light with bulbs and batteries) and Mathematician Expedition (a research paper on a mathematician of choice). We developed an understanding of the essentials in math, but we also discovered deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics in general.
My third position was in a middle school in Texas. I taught seventh grade, sixth grade Pre-AP, and sixth grade math. It was my first position at a middle school teaching only math. It was an excellent opportunity to focus solely on math education and to use new technology in math instruction. I co-sponsored the Math & Chess Club and worked with kids at a wide spectrum of skill levels. It helped me sharpen my focus on the middle school math years. The middle school years are an essential link in preparing students for high school math. The concepts go from concrete to abstract as students explore the use of variables and use multistep complex problem solving. Kids become fluent in fractions, decimals, percents, and integers. They explore proportionality and use formulas to solve geometric problems. They use basic number sense and calculation skills to solve more abstract problems.
I started tutoring math privately in 2001 and am focusing solely on tutoring now, both in person and via skype. I see math everywhere now. One-on-one tutoring allows me to individualize to meet each student’s needs. We start where the student is and we take it one step at a time from Pre Algebra through Algebra 2. Since I discovered as a teacher that I like math and understand math, my goal in life is to help others learn and like math, especially girls. It’s a heavily male dominated workforce, and girls are typically stereotyped not to like math. I am confident and enthusiastic and hope to share my love of math with my students. I hope to inspire them to feel confident in their skills and to pursue a college education, in whatever field they choose. They will need strong foundation in math no matter what job they do as adults.
My undergraduate degree was in science, and now I have specialized in math. I play chess and guitar. I do puzzles and listen to classical music. I expose my kids to math on a regular basis and point out everywhere I see math. They get tired of hearing me say ‘math is everywhere’, or ‘that’s math’, or ‘that’s science’, but it really is true. Math is everywhere and it’s involved in every job that every kid will do when they grow up. As an adult looking back on my own education, I wish the math requirements were then what they are today. I wish I or someone else noticed that I liked math and was good at it and that I had taken math classes in college. Now I love algebra and geometry. I picked up where I left off with logarithms. In 2007, I went back to school and took College Algebra at a local community college in Texas. I’m currently taking Trigonometry on www.khanacademy.org and want to take PreCalculus and Calculus when I am ready. With a husband and kids and a house to run, it’s not as easy now as it would have been to take those classes in college. But, it’s never to late to learn. I read somewhere to be happy, do what you love. I love math. So, I’m going to keep doing it!