Sharing the Joy of Math

Denise Garcia, Upper School Math Teacher

Excitement. Joy. Pride. These probably aren’t the words most of us would associate with the study of math. Yet these are the emotions my students and I experience as we explore this elegant realm of beauty, logic, and precision.

             I first knew I wanted to be a math teacher at the age of 17 when I volunteered to tutor a younger girl in arithmetic. The pride and joy on her face at the moment she mastered the process of subtraction told me I had found my calling.

            Solving a challenging math problem requires not only perseverance, tenacity, and determination, but also flexibility, improvisation, and creativity. I challenge students to devise new ways of looking at a problem, to break it down into its simpler components, to use the known to discover the unknown.

            One of the deepest pleasures of solving math problems is total engagement in the task at hand. The process can be almost meditative. When my math professors in college would give me a take-home test, for instance, I would put my hair in a ponytail, head straight to the library, and immerse myself completely in the problems for hours. My concentration was so intense that the outside world didn’t exist. One time, I was so intensely focused on a problem that a friend sat near me in the library drawing a sketch of me and I never even noticed her presence.

            Math shouldn’t be easy. It should push your brain and use every cell in your brain to circle in on a problem and devise a variety of possible approaches. What questions does the problem raise? What might work? What else can I try? What elements of this problem have I seen before? What might I be overlooking?   

            Unlocking the secret of a tough problem through hard work, ingenuity, and patience is like cracking a safe. When the tumblers fall into place and the door opens, students experience an amazing sense of exhilaration and accomplishment.

             These are skills, processes, and experiences that will equip students in whatever endeavors or careers they pursue. Learning how to size up a problem, pursue logical steps to figure it out, and then explain your solution to others is essential, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a governor, or a business leader.

            I love teaching math at Kingswood Oxford. Because the classes are small, I know my students well; we joke around; they feel comfortable telling me when they don’t understand something. For all of us, math is personal; when they figure out a hard problem, I’m as excited as they are. Above all, I really want my students to love math as much as I do.

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