Date: Apr 21, 1995 5:00 PM
Author: Karen Dee Michalowicz
Subject: Math is universal

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to share with you an incident that happened in my 7th
grade algebra class yesterday. The class is a class of 23 very
able mathematics students whom I love teaching. Anyway, I have
had a German exchange student for the past week in my class.
Anna is actually in 8th grade in Germany but elected to stay in
the seventh grade classes with the girl that is her hostess in
the states.

Yesterday, one of my boys just noticed that there was someone
new in class (isn't this like seventh graders). And, he was so
surprised that she was German. And, was she really doing our
mathematics? Did they have the same math in Germany? Could
math really be universal? I could not believe this very bright
young man's questions. However, I began to think. How many of
our students really do realize that math is universal? Jonny
taught me a lesson yesterday, a lesson I will not forget. I
will now emphasize how, no matter where you go, and what
language you use, variables are variables, linear equations are
linear equations, etc. We cannot assume our students realize
this. I thought my historical references helped students to
understand that math is a universal language. Obviously, Jonny
didn't get the message. I have learned I must be more specific.

I have been lurking during the conversation about 5th grade
enrichment activities. I've enjoyed everyone's comments. What
I have found through my many years of teaching is that students
remember their hands-on activities. They remember what they
discover. Topological concepts are not too complex if they are
presented at the appropriate developmental level. I often tell
my students that mathematics is like learning to read.

At first you have baby books with a small vocabulary. Those who
have particular interests investigate big books with rather
sophisticated vocabulary and topics. New books with new ideas
are always being written. Some people will read little and
read easy books. Others will read much and the levels may be
very difficult. It isn't intellegence so much that determines
who will be the great readers (although it helps); it is
interest. Now, I realize that this is very simplified but my
students seem to understand. When I do topology with them, I
tell them that topology is a big, big field. I'm only giving
them the baby book. As they get older and know more about
mathematics they will be able to read the more sophisticated
books. This is just my idea I wanted to share with you all.

I find my students very interested in topics in mathematics
other than basic computational skills. I've discussed Zeno's
pardox and they love it. They even develop their own.
Even years later they come back and tell me the remember about
Zeno. Again, it is these celebrations of mathematics that are
not boring that stay with and interest our students. Oh, dear,
I'm sounding dogmatic. sorry..

Anyway, I am delighted with all your ideas. We have a rich
resource on this list!



Karen Dee

Math History Lives!

Karen Dee Michalowicz VQUEST Math Lead Teacher/Trainer
Upper School Mathematics Chair Virginia Quality Education
The Langley School in Sciences and Technology
1411 Balls Hill Rd, McLean, VA l994 Presidential Awardee
22012 USA
Fax: (703) 790-9712