Inspiration for Your Renaissance Teen, and Math PhD Teaching Elementary School – Newsletter June 10

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Support Funville and Math Renaissance

Math is what you make of it!

Making math your own is the motto of Natural Math. Hundreds of your stories, interviews, and comments on chapter drafts went into Math Renaissance – the future readers, making the book address their needs. Many of you read Funville Adventures stories with your children and sent the authors feedback, art, and fanfiction inspired by the book. And now, 600+ of you crowdfunded these two newest Creative Commons book projects. THANK YOU!

When you open a Natural Math book and see your name in the community credits, know that YOU made a difference in mathematics education.

There is still time to crowdfund Funville Adventures (until June 15) and Math Renaissance (until June 22) on Kickstarter. Even $1 makes a difference: it tells the world one more person cares. All funders receive insider updates from the authors, have their names listed in the book, get the book of course, and other exciting prizes.

Funville Fan Art

Children’s fan art for Funville: the magic slide.

Student power

Rachel Steinig is the teen co-author of Math RenaissanceAre you seeking ideas for deep, meaningful projects for older students? Rachel’s book and her stories will help! At the age of 14, Rachel began a 3+ year journey of researching and writing the book. Her passions for journalism, mathematics, and student rights gave life to an incredible project. What does it take? Here is a quote from her college application essay:

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s injustice. I believe that all children deserve a good education. Educational inequality has been extremely apparent to me after attending an underfunded Philadelphia public school. This desire to eradicate injustice and to give all children access to the best possible education motivates me to engage in this writing and advocacy even when it gets challenging. I see writing this book as an act of sharing the pedagogical wealth by disseminating math circle practices to everyone.

What are these practices? For example, meaningful work on complex problems. Here’s a quote from the Math Renaissance FAQ:

Do kids as young as 6 or 7 really have sufficient motivation, attention spans, or capabilities to understand and solve complex problems, especially if the students are not yet firmly grounded in the basics?

In our math circles, children are motivated to learn because the questions are accessible mysteries. I have seen the intrinsic motivation generated in math circle sessions translate to more interest and motivation to learn the “basics.” Rachel taught a math circle this past fall on Rational Tangles (an activity designed by mathematician John Horton Conway) in which a bunch of kids were begging to learn how to manipulate fractions because they wanted to untangle a knot. When I taught The Unicorn Problem the first time, even though the kids were quite young, the pull of the narrative was strong enough to give them the extended attention span to solve the problem. We spent an hour a week for six weeks until we solved it because the problem felt alive to the students.

Unicorn Problem

Princeton PhD in math teaches elementary school

Do you get criticized for your dedication to teaching and parenting? Dr. Sasha Fradkin has always loved mathematics. She opened a frank, deep conversation on Reddit with her Ask Me Anything piece. “With a PhD in math from Princeton I chose to teach at an elementary school and write a math-inspired children’s book. AMA!” Her topic turned out to be one of the most popular this year, with 2100+ questions and comments. Should mathematicians teach? Why and how to change careers? How does parenting come into the equation? These were the big themes. Here are a few sample questions Sasha answered:

How do you stay satisfied going over basic material year after year after exploring it in such depth in college?

At the university level, did you ever see common misconceptions or prevalent comprehension difficulties that you believe were rooted in educational problems that started as early as K-5?

Have you experienced a lot of people who criticised you over your decision/tried to stop you?

Sasha Fradkin Reddit

Dr. Allison Bishop, Sasha’s co-author of Funville, hated math as a child. She fell in love with it early in college, and is now a computer scientist. What was her secret? A good teacher, and… storytelling! Here’s a quote from Allison’s interview at Columbia University:

What really got me interested in math as an adult was the creative side of science research, and the human stories of how different people make different discoveries. Why them? Why that idea? What was it about that context and that time that sparked an insight?

Storytelling is fundamental to everything. Mathematicians and scientists need to think about storytelling as a way to get broader scientific literacy across to others. We as scientists don’t optimize the communication part; we spend so much time on the research. But we need to be able to explain science to someone who hasn’t spent years delving into scientific questions. People should be able to more easily see the creativity and beauty in science. So many people don’t get there.

See you online!

Dr. Maria Droujkova, and the Natural Math crew


Questions? Email

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