The story “Why Purple?” is more easily told if I write this post first so consider this the first of two parts.
Folks who know me have heard the story that I was teaching computers at Frisbie Middle School, Rialto, CA in 1995 when I heard about the Geometry Forum’s Constructing Geometry on the Internet summer institute scheduled for a week in July. When I applied for one of the eight participant openings, I didn’t actually fit the criteria because they were looking for high school math teachers who were probably teaching or had taught geometry. Well I had never taught high school nor a high school geometry course but I think they still had one slot to fill and since I had majored in mathematics and loved teaching math they overlooked those other details. I was drawn to the project because included in the description was that we would learn how to write HTML. I was super excited at that prospect!
When my flight arrived at PHL and I went to baggage claim there was Annie in a Geometry Forum t-shirt just as I had been told. We gathered my suitcase and as she drove me to the Swarthmore campus she engaged me in conversation. I immediately felt comfortable but found it a little strange that she kept asking me about my high school math teachers. The one teacher’s name I couldn’t recall was my Algebra 2 teacher. I found it particularly odd that Annie kept pressing but my physical description of that teacher prompted Annie to ask if my teacher’s name was Mrs. Brunskill. I thought, “How on earth did Annie know that? She grew up in Vermont, not southern California where I did.” Turns out that Annie’s mom was from Fullerton with the maiden name “Brunskill” and Mrs. Brunskill was Annie’s grandmother!
My comfort level started being challenged, however, once I met others because I felt under qualified to be part of the group. I was the only middle school teacher. I was the only participant not even currently teaching math but computers. The others seemed more interesting in organizing the math sites that already existed on this “new” WWW (World Wide Web) and I wanted to learn how to write web pages. In fact, I had an activity that I wanted to share but I wasn’t feeling very confident.
We were all staying on the Swarthmore College campus in a residence named Ashton House. Looking back at the notes from the institute, I’m pretty sure my turning point was the evening of Day 3. We had spent the larger part of the afternoon agreeing to the groups we’d work with and what our tasks would be. I had agreed to be in the group that would “organize Internet resources by topic and level.” I just didn’t have the confidence to say, “what I really want to do is learn more about writing webpages!”
Hmmm…body language says a lot! Here I am – the gal watching from the doorway. (more photos)
That evening dinner had been brought to Ashton House. I remember going in to the kitchen and Sarah Seastone following me. She asked me what was wrong. I guess I was wearing my feelings on my sleeve and she had noticed! I explained to her my tessellation activity idea and that what I really, really wanted to do was spend my time putting it on the web. Sarah said, “then you will and I will help you.” That moment changed my life! By the end of the week I had written my first web page:
It’s just one page but in that week with Sarah encouraging me, I learned to write raw HTML, save graphics as gifs, ftp text files and images, and gain confidence in myself. Sarah valued me and encouraged me to learn.
Whenever anyone asks me to describe the Math Forum and what is at the heart of everything we do at the Math Forum, I always think of Sarah and those two attributes: (1) valuing each person for what they bring to their learning (2) helping that person move forward in their learning.
In 1995 we didn’t yet have our most important phrase but it was there in Sarah’s actions, she noticed me and she wondered.