In the past year, I have found a new favorite book, “Math For Human Flourishing” by Francis Su. This remarkable book asked a poignant question: “Shouldn’t just smart people do math?” As a person who has chosen math as a career, I struggled to answer this type of question. Maybe you have heard that question too? It comes in different forms: When will I ever use this? But I’m not a math person! Is higher math really necessary for everyone?

These questions, musing, and complaints all come from similar place – is math good for me? The answer is a resounding yes! Learning math makes us more fully human. This is a compelling and powerful statement. (A full defense of this idea can be found in the book.) But with that lofty assumption, what does this look like on the classroom level? What does teaching from that belief lead to? How should this belief impact choices for curriculum, standards, and classes?

As our school has grown and developed, we have both old and new ways to embody our love of The Good in mathematics.

For example:

  • We use the ‘Math In Focus’ curriculum which uses a “Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract” approach that enables our teachers to teach in a rhythm that helps promotes learning math well.
  • We emphasize knowing math facts by memory. Starting in first grade, we have grade-level goals for math fact mastery. We seek to give students the tools to be successful because we know that the Grammar level is the developmental period to focus on memory and prepare them for advanced skills in Dialectic.
  • Pi Day is a special celebration every year around March 14 (3.14) for our Dialectic students. In 6th grade, students explore relationships in circles and learn about the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. At the end of that week, 6th-8th grade students create art, stories, and skits with themed treats and lunch, all in celebration of the beautiful patterns in our world.
  • The transition from 8th to 9th grade begins a key aspect of living out our philosophy that math is good for our students. We have two math options for our incoming 9th grade students. These classes start the beginning of our Rhetoric math tracks.
    • The 8th grade year is a process of distinguishing a student’s readiness for the next math class. Depending on a student’s current mastery of skills and ability to be ready for more abstract concepts, we direct our incoming students to take either Algebra 1 or Geometry. Our students follow a set sequence of math classes with future options of 4 different pathways.
    • Francis Su writes, “We assume that grades are a measure of mathematical promise. This is not a correct assumption, for many reasons. … Grades are a measure of progress, not a measure of promise. Everyone is in a different place in their mathematical knowledge You see the snapshot, not the trajectory. You can’t know how people will flourish in the future. But you can help them get where they want to go. When someone has trouble in mathematics, we should bolster our support, not lower our expectations.” (Su 155)
  • Our newest avenue to see math as good for all of our students is to offer an additional senior level math class – ‘Introduction to Probability and Statistics’. This new class offers students from both math tracks the ability to explore different branches of mathematics and to start fresh in a new understanding and foundational way to view the world. We understand that students have different math background and future goals. Thus we seek to live out the truth that “(b)ackground is not the same as ability” (Su 160).

We strive to have a consistent philosophy and practice in how we teach math at The Academy. As we finish this school year, join me in celebrating the current practices and future options to live out the goodness in mathematics.