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The Mathematician’s Legacy: Lessons Learned

The Mathematician’s Legacy: Lessons Learned

As a part of our ongoing professional development at St. Benedict’s, all of the teachers are reading Stratford Caldecott’s book Beauty for Truth’s Sake. In this book, Caldecott does a beautiful job of explaining that in many contemporary educational institutions wisdom has been lost in knowledge, and knowledge lost in information. We are inundated with an excess of information which in turn is training us to expect instant answers and is disrupting our natural curiosity and wonder. What Caldecott reminds us of is that “the world is a fabric woven of mysteries, and a mystery is a provocation to our humanity that cannot be dissolved by googling a few more bits of information” (20). What makes St. Benedict’s so countercultural is our perspective on the purpose of education, and therefore our role as educators. We know that beauty is found in absolutely everything that exists and desire that our children learn to love what is beautiful. It is very humbling that although, “education begins in the family and ends in the trinity” (17), somewhere between the two, we as educators have the unique blessing of playing a role in each child’s formation.

What I desire, and what I have communicated especially to my older students, is that they take delight in their learning – something Caldecott referred to throughout his book as the re-enchantment of education. What this looks like in practice is different for each teacher; what it means for me is that I build on the curiosity and enthusiasm that my students already have for learning, I model for them my own love and excitement, and I diversify my instruction in order to reach all of my students who have a variety of interests and strengths. Presently my 5th grade students are working on a research project which I designed for them, in which they have chosen a famous mathematician who contributed to the furthering of the field of mathematics: Pythagoras, Euclid, Galileo, Einstein, Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson and Sophie Germain being the experts they chose from. They then created presentations with which they taught the rest of their peers about the life and accomplishments of their chosen mathematician. This sidestep from our usual studies was both to teach my students about some of the key figures in the history of mathematics, as well as to inspire in them a love for the beauty of mathematics itself. 

As my students finished their research, I presented to them this question: Having researched and learned about the life, character and achievements of this man/woman, would you like to be like him/her? Their answers were equally clever as they were charming, so I will leave you with their words.

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“I would love to be like Ada Lovelace because she was a smart, outstanding woman and is a great role model to all women, young and old. She was loving, cheerful, smart and kind. She also kept up her studies throughout her life.”

“I would love to be like Katherine Johnson because she has so many admirable qualities and virtues.” 

“No, I want to be exactly as I am and no different.”

“I admire Albert Einstein for what he did, but that’s not what I want to contribute to the world.”

“I would not like to be like Pythagoras because I would not like to found a new religion dedicated to myself.”

“I would love to be like Ada Lovelace because she created many things, even at such a young age. Ada Lovelace is truly inspiring and she created a computer program which is something most people couldn’t do at her time.” 

“No, because I’d rather be a professional athlete or a firefighter. However, I appreciate what he did for the world.”

Author: Alyssa Powers, Floating & Math Teacher