It has been two and a half years since Betty Strong and Grace Wang - with support from the 21st Century Fund - launched their senior elective math course, Perspectives of a Mathematical Mind (PMM). As the course nears the final semester of its three-year pilot, it looks like it is here to stay at Brookline High. Each year student enrollment in this class has increased; the course continues to attract a diverse group of students; and PMM's curriculum is diffusing into other BHS math courses.
Because so much of the high school math curriculum is prescribed by the Common Core State Standards, MCAS, and the drive for AP courses, teachers have little freedom to teach topics outside of traditionally defined courses. It's not surprising, then, that many students graduate high school thinking of math as merely a collection of formulas, procedures, and standardized questions with the goal of "getting the right answer." But BHS math teachers know better! They love math because they know that math is everywhere - in nature, in art, in poetry, in traffic jams. Betty and Grace wanted to create a course (which they did, from scratch) that opened students' eyes to that wide world of applicability. As Grace Wang says, "We want students to know how awesome math is."
Josh Paris, Math Department Curriculum Coordinator, has been behind Betty and Grace's initiative since its inception. Josh says, "What's wonderful about PMM is that it's a chance for our department to offer interesting and high-level math to a diverse group of kids in a non-leveled class. Grace and Betty have designed units - Non-Euclidean Math, Taxicab Geometry, Fractals, Math in Art, for example - so that students can access information at different points and explore the topics to different levels."
Students' capstone projects at the end of the year highlight the deep and personal impact this course has on the students who take it. After three quarters on introductions into a variety of math topics, each student chooses a topic that is most meaningful to him/her to explore during fourth quarter. PMM empowers students to choose their personal areas of interest and gives them time to dive deeply into those interests. "The variety of topics students cover in the course ... allows them to see math in so many ways, which was the goal of the course in the first place."
The BHS seniors enrolled in PMM are not the only ones benefitting from the course. During the summers of 2013 and 2014, Betty and Grace offered weeklong PMM workshops to their grades 7-12 math colleagues, and many of those teachers have worked some of what they learned into their courses. Teachers of ninth-grade math, for instance, realized that taxicab geometry was something ninth-graders could do, so they made it an assessment in the ninth-grade unit on proof - a unit emphasizing exploration and investigation rather than solutions.
The creators of PMM, Betty and Grace, have benefitted from the course as well. The opportunity to develop an idea collaboratively, to experiment and revise it over three years, has been invaluable - the best professional development a teacher could ask for.
From BHS's Math Department: Thank you 21st Century Fund for your trust in the creativity and expertise of BHS's teachers and for your support of the experimentation to figure out what works best for our students and our school.