Perspectives class provides alternative math education
Renata Shen, Staff Writer
April 14, 2018
By the end of high school, an average math student can write a geometric proof, solve a quadratic equation and maybe even calculate a derivative. Give the student a traditional math textbook and a sheet of lined paper, and they’ll know exactly what to do — but ask that same student about non-euclidean geometry, game theory, the history of math, or real-world applications of operations and formulas, and you will likely receive a blank stare.
That is, unless you ask students from a senior math class, Perspectives of a Mathematical Mind, which introduces non-algebraic college math and connects concepts with other disciplines such as art, music and history. Through taking the class, students incorporate their own interests with math projects, which deepens their engagement and understanding of the material.
Math teachers Betty Strong and Grace Wang brainstormed the idea for the class after observing a lack of student interest in other algebra-based math classes.
“We would sit around and just be like, ‘it’s such a bummer that students don’t get a chance to see all of this really cool stuff about math,’” Strong said.“There’s so much more to math that kids don’t see.”
After submitting a proposal to the Innovation Fund, then called the Twenty First Century Fund, Strong and Wang received a grant to run the class for three years. After this trial period, the funding for the course was incorporated into the school’s math department budget. The class now covers topics such as tessellations, fractals, art, music and more. Although the class includes some mathematical calculations, the bulk of the class is spent completing other activities.
“We do a lot of group work and presenting, we watch videos, we read articles, we do a lot of discussions, we do a lot more in-depth math investigations,” Strong said.
Although she was already on the advanced math track freshman through junior year, senior Damani Gopal chose to take Perspectives this year, in addition to Advanced Placement calculus.
“I want to study computer science when I’m in college, so obviously the STEM fields are really big in my life,” Gopal said. “Taking a second math was a big benefit.”
Senior Noah Sesling chose to take the class after a presentation given to his Trigonometry and Analysis class junior year. Prior to taking the class, he had struggled to connect class material to his daily life.
“I liked the idea of taking a math class that actually could teach me things that I could apply to the real world,” Sesling said.
For Gopal, learning about other aspects of math has allowed her to extend her existing knowledge of STEM. She particularly enjoyed a unit on game theory, a field of study that is heavily rooted in human psychology.
“It’s the analysis of how two or more parties choose to play a certain game, so it can be like applied to fights like wars, or it can be applied to games,” Gopal said. “There’s a lot of connection to computer science to that. I’ve done game theory independently, so it was lot of fun to do it in school.”
During a unit on math and art, Gopal was able to apply her interest in coding to an end of unit project.
“I made a computer program that depicted tessellations and fractals, so involving coding with math,” Gopal said.
Sesling has incorporated his interest in music with math class. At the high school, Sesling participates in both Camerata choir and the a capella group, Testostatones. For one of his projects, Sesling studied twelve-tone serialism, a form of music composition.
“It basically uses numbers to create melodies,” Sesling said. “I found that really interesting, the way that Perspectives taught me and gave me the resources, and opportunities and open-endedness to actually explore how math and music come together.”
According to Strong, a unique aspect of the class is that it is non-leveled, allowing students who normally don’t interact an opportunity to learn together.
“There’s not a lot of prerequisite knowledge that students need, so we take kids from the college prep level all the way up to the advanced level,” Strong said, “the course is based on each student reaching their own level of mastery, so there’s a lot of individualization.”
For Sesling, taking the class has helped him recognize the significance of mathematical concepts.
“[Before Perspectives] I spent a lot of time memorizing and just trying to think of concepts that didn’t have a meaning to me. This idea of just 1+1=2,” Sesling said. “But with perspectives, it’s a lot more [of] much larger concepts rather than simple small ideas or equations. It’s not like anything you have to memorize, it’s just concepts, like how math would relate to everyday experiences or other forms of art.”