M.A.T.H. Tips: Vol. 6

Crushing Stereotypes On & Off the NFL Field

8-12-17 Update to this post!  John recently retired from the NFL to pursue his Ph.D. in Mathematics at at M.I.T.. You can follow @JohnCUrschel on twitter and see his many contributions in promoting STEM education and success in math.

Originally posted 2/16/2017

Get to know John Urschel and share his story with your students!  You’re sure to spark a lot of inspiration and great discussion in your classroom while infusing a positive attitude towards mathematics.

John_Urschel_MITJohn, the 25 year-old, 6’3″,  300-pound offensive lineman on the NFL Baltimore Ravens loves football AND he loves Math. In the off-season, he’s working to earn his doctorate from MIT in the science of advanced applied mathematics. In this Real Sports interview, when asked what is the goal of math?  John responds “to understand, to learn, to push forward.”  With a 4.0 GPA and undergraduate degree and standout football career at Penn State, John has worked hard every step of the way.

His Mom reflects on how she would challenge him to calculate tax and retail change while shopping at the grocery store when he was young. He embraces the competitive nature of math just like he does on the field in the NFL. His perspective on mathematics is refreshing!  For John, “it’s me versus this unknown” and when he solves a problem it’s “the best feeling in the world.”   you will also get a peek into his home library, where a title on randomized algorithms sits on his bookshelf.  He’s the type of athlete that also keeps a chalkboard in his bedroom in case “a quadratic equation pops into his head in the middle of the night. Oh yes, and in his “spare time,” he’s teaching himself Russian or competing at the Genius Gala with US chess champions!  What a role model for our students and our kids! The stereotype that you can’t blend high- achieving academics with professional sports is crushed by John.  To top it all off, his positive attitude and warm smile alone will inspire all of us to follow our passion!

Watch and be inspired!

Catch Real Sports anytime on HBO.

John isn’t the only Ph.D. in the NFL, learn more about football great Frank Ryan!

5 Tips to Help Your Students Be Successful at Test Time

We all know that even good students in class can often bomb tests. Here we share some suggestions for helping students with math and test anxiety in and out of the classroom.  Thanks to all of our contributors for sharing a range of ideas from “Speed Dating” reviews, self-reflection letters, and peer-to-peer reviews/partners.  You’ll appreciate the advice from your colleagues on what is working to ease the pre-test anxiety and build their confidence for future  exams.
Less is More: Have more frequent exams with less material on each. Breaking material into smaller test chunks can help curb some of the anxiety that comes from being overwhelmed at the amount of material covered on a test. This is especially useful in lower level math courses where students haven’t built up confidence in their mathematical abilities.
MATHTips_PracticeTake the Time for Self-Reflection:  After a test, you student can write a letter to a future student of the course telling them what they wished they had done to prepare for exams. Self-reflection after exams helps students identify problematic behavior patterns.  Have students compare answers with each other and as a group come up with a recipe for test preparation. We’d love for you to share how this works with your class!
MATHTips_DoingtheLearningBen Franklin’s Wisdom: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Peer- to- peer learning is effective for helping students verbalize where they have problems with concepts. Pick a recently covered topic and have students line students line themselves up along the wall in the order that they believe they understand the material (let them rate themselves). Pair the students starting at the ends (100% pair with 0% etc.). Give each group a problem that they must explain to their partner.
Speed Reviews: Review days can often turn into math performances where the instructor blithely completes review problems on the board. Instead try “speed dating” on review day…90 seconds per problem, switch partners….do another.  Shortly before the end of the class; review the correct answers.
MATHTips_NeverGiveUpBreak it Down: Language is a powerful tool.  Work on building students confidence with small vocabulary changes.  If a student  says “I don’t get it” help them verbalize the specifics such as “I don’t understand fractions” or I don’t understand this step” being able to identify where they encounter problems slowly aids in building confidence when they see that it is not everything that is confusing but only a small part that is causing problems.