Harvard Professor Visits RGV to Discuss Quality Math Instruction

Harvard professor Brendan Kelly recently led two workshops as part of the Texas Graduate Center’s Leadership Series in partnership with Region One GEAR UP. On day one, Dr. Kelly presented on Quality Math Instruction at Region One Education Service Center in Edinburg, TX. In attendance were local district administrators and math teachers from across the Rio Grande Valley, including Texas Graduate Center (TGC) cohort members. Dr. Kelly stressed the importance of “low-floor/high-ceiling” questions and activities that encourage students to think of creative ways to solve mathematical problems. He discussed the importance of integrating perplexity into math instruction as a way of highlighting the creativity in mathematics which is often lost in math classes. “I think the whole idea of embedding perplexity in our lessons as a means of quality instruction is what we really need to focus on as mathematics educators,” said Karina Araiza, PSJA math teacher and Cohort I member. “The trend now is engaging students through relevance, but they should also be dying to solve the riddle provided by the mathematics coach, and continue persevering until they figure out the puzzle, that is the whole idea of perplexity,” Araiza said.

Daniel Lara, an Edinburg math teacher and Cohort III member was also in attendance, “I really enjoyed the workshop at Region One. The activity that he had us doing (with the cube) forced me to really think about how to come up with a solution to the problem at hand,” Lara said, “It made me think in new ways.”

Dr. Kelly’s second workshop was held at Weslaco East High School for TGC master’s students currently pursuing their Math for Teaching graduate degree from Harvard Extension School. Dr. Kelly discussed and modeled Teachers’ Circles for the group. Math Teachers’ Circles are professional development communities of mathematics teachers and professors who meet regularly to work on rich mathematics problems. Teacher’ Circles encourage teachers as mathematicians, connect mathematics professors with K-12 education, and build a K-20 community of mathematics professionals committed to fostering a love and understanding of mathematics among all students.

“I think that math teacher circles is a revolutionary idea in order to promote quality mathematics instruction, the beauty in doing mathematics is what drew most of us math teachers into the profession,” said Araiza. “Sadly, after a few years into the profession, one starts to loose the spark, by being constantly exposed into the explorative process and research of mathematical concepts with other individuals who enjoy the same hobby, one maintains a fresh perspective on the subject and is able to communicate the concepts better.”

Dr. Kelly is a Preceptor of Mathematics at Harvard University. He will be teaching MATH S-318 Groups and Symmetry this summer at Harvard’s Extension School. At Harvard, Dr. Kelly works closely with the teaching mission of the Harvard’s mathematics department, developing curriculum and mentoring new instructors. He is working with HarvardX developing a MOOC to increase access for freshmen to take calculus their first semester of college. Dr. Kelly also helps facilitate a professional learning community specifically for middle school math teachers.

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