Writing in Math: Wait, this isn’t English Class

By Hudson Harper

A math professor once walked into a graduate course I was enrolled in, fuming about the latest proofs we had submitted. It wasn’t because anyone had plagiarized their solutions, and it wasn’t because the students just didn’t get it. No, it was because the professor was “sick and tired” of comma splices. He then proceeded to take the first 20 minutes of lecture to show us a YouTube video on comma splices and showed specific examples from our work to demonstrate just how egregious our grammar was. At the time, I was a little confused as to why a math professor with limited lecture time would take such a large chunk of a class to emphasize just one example of misused grammar. However, I finally understood when I started teaching math.

I couldn’t read my students’ work! And it’s not a mystery as to why. If you simply do a Google image search for the word “Math,” you’re likely to find stock photos of chalk boards full of equations, symbols, and drawings. I hate to admit it, but I’m guilty of spreading this image of math as well.

Me “Doing Math” for a Trendy Profile Photo

Me “Doing Math” for a Trendy Profile Photo

However, I challenge anyone to read the math in this photo in a coherent way. The only way you would be able to make any sense out of my work is if you already knew a good bit about and had experience with the math I was working on. Unfortunately, this hodgepodge of symbols, drawings, and general nonsense is the most common way that math is presented in secondary education by teachers and students alike. And it’s understandable why it’s this way when procedures and algorithms are emphasized over mathematical thinking.

Thanks to my professor who yelled at me about comma splices and my experiences as a math teacher, I am more intentional about the way mathematics is communicated in my courses. So first off, you will never find me during class at a board like the one in the photo. More importantly though, my students are forced, I mean taught, to write… a lot. This writing can take several forms. The most common is a formal or informal explanation/proof of an idea a student has. However, students in my class will write reflections on their mathematical thinking, draw annotated diagrams to demonstrate difficult concepts, and even from time to time write papers. Yes, the humanities aren’t the only subjects that can assign essays!

My students will also engage in peer review. They’ll revise drafts. They’ll think about the ways in which grammar affects math just as much as a misplaced mathematical symbol. They’ll identify expressions as clauses and equations as sentences with subjects, verbs, and predicate nominatives. At the end of the day, I want my students to go out into the world and be able to reproduce and explain their work for others. As a first step though, I’ll make sure that I can read the work they submit, and point out the occasional comma splice.


The Whole Student

By Sarah Murphy, Director of College Counseling and Student Support

In many larger schools, the role of the school counselor is putting out fires. With so many students under the guidance of just one or two counselors, dealing with the crisis of the week (or “COW” as we refer to it in the field) and managing student schedules precludes counselors from engaging in the work they are best suited for: helping students develop socially and emotionally.

Part of our mission in rethinking school is imagining how we might put into place support and prevention before students reach a point of crisis. I am excited to start my role as Director of Student Support in a school where time and resources are devoted to allowing me to work with all students and focus my time and energy on encouraging healthy habits. One of the ways I plan to do this is by incorporating social emotional learning (SEL) into our school culture and daily routine. (Just ask the faculty about the “mindful minute” that now opens our team meetings!)


Building off our introduction of SEL topics into advisories last spring , this year we have adopted a set of SEL competencies we want to ensure all students have mastered by the time they leave DTS. Adapted from a nationally-developed framework, these guideposts help us focus on offering students a wide range of skills they will need to be happy and successful.

To narrow our efforts, we have chosen to focus on two areas for 2019-2020: self-management and responsible decision making. Throughout the year, weekly advisory lessons will introduce students to topics from how to manage stress and practice self-care to how to reflect on past actions to influence future decision making. These skill sets translate not only into building stronger, more capable students, but also into developing good citizens and flexible future employees.

Our goal is that by next June, each of our students has gained the knowledge and ability to confidently assert the following statements.


Self-care - I manage stress and make time to recharge my non-academic needs and interests. 

Goal-setting - I set and work toward reasonable personal and academic goals and review and evaluate these regularly.

Motivation - I develop strategies that help me gain energy and momentum for learning.

Discipline - I train myself to complete tasks in a way that spreads work out over time and breaks challenges into a series of smaller tasks. 

Impulse control- I successfully regulate my emotions, thoughts and behaviors in different situations. 

Responsible Decision-Making:

Identifying programs - I identify conflict and recognize the infractions of social norms.

Analyzing programs - I generate solutions that consider the well-being of myself and others. 

Solving problems - I make constructive choices about personal behavior based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms.

Evaluating - I evaluate the realistic consequences of various actions. 

Reflecting - I reflect on past actions to improve decision making in future situations.

In addition to the advisory curriculum, all students and families will complete an SEL needs survey this fall to allow us to tailor additional instructional time and support to the particular needs of the community.

I look forward to serving as a resource for students facing the many challenges that come with high school -- whether managing anxiety, discovering a learning difference, or negotiating college choices -- but most of all I am excited about the possibility of helping each and every student build greater well-being into their everyday lives. 


Igniting Interest in Tech Careers

By Lupe Fisch

As a very STEM-oriented high-school student in the early 80s, I remember being the only girl in my Advanced Chemistry and Calculus classes. I was fortunate to have supportive male teachers and classmates, but I lacked models of women with my interests and passions until I got to college. Although the tech field is still challenged in some sectors by outdated stereotypes of what girls and women can and cannot do, our students have more opportunities and more access to STEM programs and jobs.

Last year, thanks to our connection with Wyn Pottinger-Levy at The Center School, we were invited to participate in several excursions organized by IGNITE Worldwide, an organization with expanding international reach whose mission includes creating “opportunities to spark girls’ excitement about technology careers.” Half a dozen of our students joined other schools visiting Nordstrom and ExtraHop, a company that specializes in enterprise cyber analytics.

At both sites, our students heard from panels of professional women at each company and got to experience a little of each organization’s culture. IGNITE offers other opportunities, including interactive workshops and job shadowing, which our self-identifying female and non-binary students can access as juniors and seniors. It’s exciting that our students can see themselves reflected in a diversity of fields as they start to glimpse and craft their own futures.

Students were excited to have this opportunity to meet and interact with positive STEM role models.. In the days and weeks following our visits to Nordstrom and ExtraHop, you could hear the enthusiasm in the hallways and classrooms as our students shared their experiences and considered the impact that women are making in the STEM world. We are so lucky to have partnered with IGNITE Worldwide, and we look forward to many more future collaborations!

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