If one ever needs an excuse to have pie for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, it’s today — March 14, 3.14, National Pi Day. (Also, Albert Einstein’s birthday and the day of Stephen Hawking’s death. Coincidence?)
The mathematical constant that’s been around since the Babylonians figures prominently in math and physics calculations like the ones taught by Jennifer Lehner and Pam Guest at Platt High School in Meriden, CT. To make math more compelling to high needs students and extra-engaging to the school’s Mathletes Team, the teachers designed an FFT fellowship to explore historic sites pertinent to mathematics in Greece and Italy.
“Rather than just talk about Pythagoras’ theorem, we wanted to personally describe what Pythagoras’ cave looks and feels like,” said Jennifer. “Instead of just presenting the Fibonacci series, we wanted to share how we visited his birthplace and what significance he has to the local people. Our vision was to embed key elements of our two weeks into a virtual Greece and Italy math challenge students can navigate prior to graduation.”
Beginning at the cave where Pythagoras taught the likes of Aristotle and Plato, Pam and Jennifer photographed and filmed ancient architecture in Athens and Delphi, creating media assets to support the math questions for students’ virtual challenge project. In the homeland of Galileo and Fibonacci, the teachers sought out memorials to math, including the Garden of Archimedes Mathematics Museum in Florence and the Museum of Mathematics in Rome.
“Our goal was to acquire as much knowledge as we could about the history of key math figures and concepts from the regions, as well as evidence of applications of math in historic and current times across a range of disciplinary areas,” said Pam.
Members of the afterschool “Mathletes” club are in the process of creating a rigorous SAT-level math questions associated with each site their teachers researched. In May, teammates will test and refine one another’s questions and decide what platform to use to share out their virtual math tour with a wider audience. Today, Jen has students on a field trip to Southern Connecticut State University’s Mathematical Puzzle Programs High School Challenge which, according to her, is another experience perfectly aligned with student goals established as a result of their fellowship last summer. The teaching team is also in planning discussions with an English teacher who covers Greek Mythology about a cross-disciplinary field trip with students back to Greece, hopefully next year, if approved.
“It was so impactful to step foot on the same grounds of many famous mathematicians and to learn first hand from being there rather than out of a textbook,” said Jen. “I not only feel that this fellowship has improved my teaching, but it has also shaped me into a well-rounded person who can set a positive example for my students as to what it means to be a lifelong learner.”
Pam Guest is a high school mathematics teacher and school and district Restorative Practices teacher leader who also serves as an adviser for the Interact Club, co-adviser for the Mathletes team, and throws coach for the cross-town high school’s indoor and outdoor track teams. Previously a Senior Executive HR Director with Accenture, teaching fulfills her lifelong dream to help children learn to succeed. Now a seven-year teacher, she has been recognized as her school’s 2019 “Teacher of the Year.”
Jen Lehner is a high school math teacher, advisor for the Mathletes team, and coach of the girls tennis team. In addition to her B.S. in Mathematics, she earned her M.S. in Educational Technology from Central Connecticut State University.