I travel a lot with work, going to conferences speaking about elementary math education. I love working with other educators and helping them see math in a different way. As I have mentioned before in other blogs, Dyslexia math and me and Aphantasia math and me, I have learning difficulties and it is through that lens that I create math games and lessons. With travel comes hours sitting in an airport. During one such stop I experienced two events that caused me to stop the work I was doing and reflect on what I had just witnessed. Below happened the year I started MANGO Math, 2009, the year Barack Obama was elected president, people were feeling optimistic after the economic crash and I had optimism and mathematics on my mind.
Flying home from Title 1 in Nashville I had a 3 hour layover in Dallas, as I was there I observed a couple of instances that made me smile and feel good about America and how at this time of discussion of youth violence and troubled teens, this left me feeling good.
First experience was on the tram from one terminal to the next. A young man got onto the train and had placed his bags on the ground while he grabbed the pole for balance. An older couple in the middle of the train looked at his bag that had a school logo and a pair of brightly colored athletic shoes inside and asked the young man where he was going. He responded very politely that he was on a recruiting tour and was headed to Colorado to visit the Air Force Academy. The man asked what sport he played and he replied “Football sir” and the man responded “I’m a recruiter for the University of Alabama”. The boy's eyes lit up, you could see a slight smile on his face and he asked if he knew a player and he gave the man a name I didn’t catch. The man responded, of course I do, and the young man proudly responded that the player graduated from his high school, I believe the name of the school was Ames High School. The gentleman asked the young man his name and said he would love to look up his stats and I could just feel the excitement the young man felt about it all.
The other instance was while waiting for my flight 4 young soldiers all looking around the age of 18 or 19 were waiting for their flight. A gentleman stood up and went up to them and chatted with them for a few minutes. He was tall and his broad shoulders had started to curve with age and the young soldiers looked small and young next to him. They group was in good spirits, laughing and smiling during the conversation. Upon leaving the gentleman shook all the young soldiers' hands, thanked them for their service and to stay safe. You could just see those young men stand taller with pride because of what was just said to them.
I wanted to blog about the situation because I like seeing those little acts of kindness, those acts that make another person feel special, optimistic, and proud. How could I write about this experience in a blog about math? First, I thought of all the math these young men will encounter within their careers either as an athlete or as a soldier. They will each have to recognize distance at a glance. They will both have to take in their surroundings and calculate what they will have to do. What is at what angle, the ball, the enemy, their offense, the other players on the field both in battle and in play. They will have to estimate time and organize data and statistics. There are lots of mathematical equations they will be doing constantly. Do they realize they are doing math? Did a teacher ever make those connections for them? I wonder if a teacher, parent or adult made them feel pride in math. I wonder if there was a young person on the tram with a college backpack and a math book if someone would have started a conversation with them. Can we make people honor mathematicians as much as they honor athletes or Armed Service personnel. I am going through the common core standards in math and I am hoping that this method of getting all the states standardized and providing teachers clear standards about what students should learn at each grade level and building more depth than breadth will help to clarify a system that has been a little sporadic. I hope that this is a means of helping students and not just another hurdle.
Now in 2023, I came across this document and wanted to share this little timeline of how much of my time is spent thinking about math.