Math Teachers’ Circle: A time of learning and discussion

Evangeline Colarossi – Staff Writer

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Photo by Evangeline Colarossi

Cal Jongsma, a former Dordt mathematics professor, returned to the classroom on Saturday, March 30, to share his love of two different subjects: math and historical philosophy. Twelve current and future teachers joined in on this meeting to learn the roots of algebra and how it has developed into math today.

Instead of a casual get-together for math teachers, the Dordt Math Teacher’s Circle featured papers covered with math problems spread across the table, though they were interspersed with pieces of chocolate.

The Math Teacher’s Circle isn’t just for Dordt students and professors. Half of the attendees were teachers from surrounding schools. Six teachers from Sioux Center, Rock Valley and Kinsey Elementary came to learn alongside three Dordt students and two Dordt professors. This lesson was geared toward middle-school concepts, but even a Kindergarten teacher was present to learn what he could apply to his classroom.

The lesson was titled “The Historical Case for Non-Symbolic Pre-Algebra.” While that may make no sense to the average reader, it ties in to Jongsma’s math techniques. During the meeting, he approached middle school math concepts in multiple ways and brought in historical pieces to show how algebra was done before it was even known as algebra.

During his time at Dordt, Jongsma taught a middle school math education class. He changed his curriculum for this class every year, narrowing down on two questions, which he asked the group on Saturday.

“How did the human race learn algebra over time? And will this help middle school kids really learn algebra?”

To answer this, Jongsma worked through Egyptian, Arabic and modern math problems, asking his audience to try to solve them on their own. Then he outlined the best ways to solve these problems, although there were several options. Those methods of problem-solving can be taught in classrooms to help students of different learning types truly understand algebra, not just unhow to plug numbers into an equation and write down the answer.

Even when the lesson was over, the learning didn’t stop. The group discussed ways they had each taught in their classrooms over the years. The shared knowledge between teachers targeting all age groups was a way to share what they had learned on their own, while also gaining ideas from others on how to make math more exciting for students.

For many, this wasn’t just a chat about math, but also a time to get back into a classroom where they were taught, so they can continue growing as teachers themselves.

Cal Jongsma is currently writing and publishing his own textbook for discrete mathematics, signed on with Springer Publishing. When he taught at Dordt, he never found a textbook he felt helped his classes well, so he compiled his teaching notes to make his own textbook.

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