Molly Hasegawa is in her third year as a member of our middle school math team. We recently sat down with Molly to discuss a little bit about her love of math and the role community plays in her life and teaching practice, and to learn more about some work currently being done by our middle school math students.
Jim Morrison: How did you fall in love with math? Was there a moment when you knew you wanted to put serious effort into studying and teaching it?
Molly Hasegawa: Math was a subject I always enjoyed in school, but it wasn’t until my high school calculus class that I realized it was a subject that I wanted to pursue further. I remember our class was tasked with matching the graphs of functions to the graphs of their derivatives. It was a simple problem, but the visual of it just made so much sense and I found the connection between the graphs fascinating. Throughout that class, I realized that there was so much more that could be explored.
JM: As a humanities teacher, I felt that a big picture goal of my practice was working with students to create an informed perspective that could then be expressed and shared more widely through effective writing. What are some of your big picture, life-long learning goals for your students?
MH: Regardless of the specific content that we are covering in math, I try to focus on working with my students to develop their problem-solving skills. We think about what strategies we can use to make sense of a problem, explore the problem, develop solutions, ask questions, and revise solutions.
JM: To the extent that people are shaped by the place they are from, I am curious about how growing up in Hawaii might have influenced you as a person, teacher, and/or mathematician.
MH: My grandparents, my parents, and I were all born and raised in Hawaii, so it’s impossible for me to think about Hawaii and not think about family. Growing up in a small town and on an island, “family” also extended beyond just those I was related to. This sense of community is so important to me.
When I went away to college, I was proud to be from Hawaii, but also intimidated because there was so much that I didn’t experience or know about - including a lot of things I didn’t understand in my math classes. It took me a while to feel like I belonged there. It has made me realize how important it is to have that sense of belonging - even in someplace like a math classroom.
JM: It has been a while since many members of our community have been in a middle school math class. What is a unit or project you and your students are currently working on (or one you have planned for later in the year?) What are some of the learning outcomes for students?
MH: Our fifth-grade math students are currently working on their Dear Data Projects. They are collecting data about themselves in three different aspects of their life: personal wellness, schoolwork, or activities.
After their month of data collection, they will analyze the data. They will calculate the measures of central tendency, represent their data as graphs, write conclusions about the data, and create non-traditional visual representations of the data on postcards. Students will be able to practice applying the skills we are learning in our Data and Statistics Unit while also reflecting on their own habits.
JM: Collaboration and authenticity of purpose are pillars of the Nueva experience. Sadly, for me, those aspects were missing from the math classes I had when I was growing up. Can you comment on the challenges and opportunities for authentically engaging Nueva students in mathematics?
MH: I can definitely relate to that. It wasn’t until much later on in my own math education that I really felt like I got to see the applications of math and engage with it in a truly authentic way.
One thing I really appreciate about the Nueva math program is how it connects the learning of math to real-world problems. One of my favorite projects is our sixth-grade Sustainable Living Project. In this project, students work across their math, language, and science classes to learn about sustainable energy and design a house for a client from a country of the language they’re studying.
This project as well as those in other grade levels helps students to see the place of mathematics in important issues such as environmentalism and it gives them choice in how they approach these problems.
JM: What is the role of collaboration in your classroom?
MH: Collaboration and building mathematical communities are also so important in our classroom. We were recently talking to our students about what it means to be a respectful, skeptical peer and how they might give feedback on and respond to a peers’ proof. There’s so much value in being able to share and understand different approaches and solutions to a problem. Even as a teacher, there have been numerous times where I’ve benefited from hearing a student’s perspective on a problem that made me think about a solution in a whole different way.
JM: Do you know a great math joke?
There are so many good math puns. A joke a student shared with me last year is, “What did the seed say when it finally had grown up?...Geom-e-tree!"
Inspired Molly’s math joke or insight into her path towards teaching math? Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your favorite math pun or tell us what role math plays in your life, either professionally or personally. We’d love to hear from you!