My first passion was teaching social studies. I grew up in San Francisco, a city full of Gold Rush history, and spent a lot of time in Boston, a city full of colonial history. My mind was full of stories from these cities and I loved teaching students about the history around them. It was so fun to take them on field trips and have them touch a wall that is 300 years old or stand on the sidewalk, knowing that ship is buried just below.
I still love teaching social studies but I experienced an epiphany one afternoon when Peggy McLean, math specialist, was teaching my second grade class about square numbers. She had the students building square numbers using math blocks. I knew that three squared was equal to nine but I had never seen anyone build a three-by-three square out of blocks and show that that was the visual model of three squared. I nearly fell over when she explained that square numbers are so named because they make a square shape. How could I have made it through college math without knowing this? I thought someone just decided to call it “squared.” I didn’t know there was a reason for it. I wondered what other math secrets were out there that I didn’t know. It was then that I became a convert to the visual math philosophy. I believe that students learn best when they build visual models of the math concepts they are studying. (This is also part of the new common core standards for math.) These models provide access to math concepts in a way that makes sense to students. There is no confusion with memorizing meaningless procedures. Math makes sense when one can visually see what is happening. I also believe that students learn mathematics best when engaged in discussion with others about what they have learned and discovered. Through these discussions students explore their own viewpoints and consider the viewpoints of others. Disequilibrium is essential to the process. When students encounter new ideas or new ways of thinking about old ideas they will deepen their own understanding. Even adults, who have learned math in a different way, will have their own “aha” moments when exploring math using a visual math philosophy. Most will say, “I would have been so good at math if I had learned this way.” My current passion is teaching children and adults math in ways that make it fun and meaningful.