M.A.T.H. Tips: Vol. 16

Math Careers: Guillermo Mendez, Director of Analytics and Innovation

Our Career Spotlight is a great way to engage your students with tips from current professionals on the relevance of Math in a variety of occupations.

What is your current job/career?

  •             Director of Analytics and Innovation, Clinical Performance Analytics at Banner Health

How do you use math or mathematical problem solving in your work?  How does your math background help you in your job?

  • In a few ways:
  • Using statistical methodologies, we evaluate if pilot programs were successful and, if they were, what made the program work and how can we quantify the return of the investment.
  • Using predictive modeling techniques, we proactively identify patients who are highly likely to be admitted into the hospital to try to prevent the episode.
  • Understanding math helps to apply critical thinking to business problems to create a strategy to solve them.

What motivated you to study math?

  • I had an early affinity to math’s logic and deductive reasoning. I also had an ability to understand mathematical concepts compared to my peers. So, I had both the skill and a desire to improve and define that skill.

What would you say to a student who is thinking about studying math but doesn’t want a typical teaching career.

  • If someone studies pure math, they are almost certain to end up in a teaching job, but most people who like math do not study pure math. Most people who like to study math tend to study within a domain (e.g., economics, finance, healthcare, computer programming, sports analytics, etc.). I would recommend the student to apply their love of math to a specific domain that they are also interested in.

Other advice or comments?

  • From a future job outlook perspective, learn a computer language which uses a lot of math and logical concepts and are always needed at various companies.
  • Or, as I did, study statistics which of course uses a lot of math. In today’s world, there is tons of data being collected and companies are storing, securing, and curating it which is a large investment. What a company wants in return, is to get something back from that investment in the form of information to make smarter business decisions. The way that is done, is through statistics, data mining, and predictive/prescriptive modeling. In the future, people who understand how to do that will be invaluable and are typically called data scientists.

Transforming Yourself as a Teacher

Almost everyone has a memory of that one teacher that sparked something in them: an interest in math, a love of music, a create piece of poetry.  How do these teachers get there? Practice and awareness. Edutopia has a great article on becoming a transformational teacher.

While many of the suggestions are well known advice, we would add one new idea.

Keep a teaching journal.

  • A journal doesn’t have to be a long-winded treatise about your day, or a deep work of art, a teaching journal can be as simple as a word document where you jot down ideas you had in class, or frustrations you had with a particular lesson.  Using a teaching journal can help you identify patterns and ideas that reoccur over the course of your classes and can help you identify areas of growth and change.


Read: Taming the Email Demon

With hundreds of students emailing you from multiple accounts, dealing with student emails can be an over whelming task. Help yourself and your students by setting email ground rules at the start of the semester.

These rules can easily be added to your syllabus or included as a mini assignment.

An article from Inside Higher Ed has some good suggestions for students to help them write better emails.
Read Here.

The Bears State the Truth: Student Accountability and Reflection

Start of the semester reflection – Preempt the end of semester grade grubbing with a reflective lesson that challenges students to think about their behavior and what their goals are for the course.   Julia Phelps from Valencia College used the video “I am worried about my grade”  as a teaching tool to engage students in early semester self-reflection..   In her post, she writes that the exercise helped students think about how to be better students early in the semester.

Watch Here

There are many ways to implement self-reflective exercises in class, you can have them watch the above video, respond to a quiz or create a discussion post. Whatever method you choose here are a few questions you can ask students:

  • Do I make time to visit my professor or a tutor when I am stuck on a question or do I skip the questions on which I am stuck?
  • How do I budget my time to study for multiple classes?
  • How do I keep track of assignments and their due dates?
  • What tools do I use to manage my time?
  • What are my goals for this course and how to I plan to achieve them?
  • Who is responsible for my success in this course? How will that success be achieved?

To help students grow, keep a record of their responses and have them repeat the exercise at the end of the semester and compare answers.

Breaking the Ice: Building Rapport with Students

The first day of class can set the tone for the entire term. Establishing rapport with your students, reviewing class rules, getting a feel for which students might be at risk, and setting goals are all important things that could be accomplished within the first meeting or two. Some faculty like to dig right in and get to content. Others like to start with a discussion of some of the soft skills that help students succeed. Below are some links to get you thinking about what you can do to make the best of your first session.

What will it be? Get to Know You Bingo? A Syllabus Scavenger hunt?

You’ll find more for early in the semester on our Index under the category First Week of Class

Course Spotlight: Math for Future Elementary School Teachers


On the first day of class I ask my students, “How many of you plan to be elementary school teachers?” They all have their hands raised. “Raise them high. Everyone with your hand raised is going to be a math teacher.” Then I continue, “Keep your hand raised if math is your favorite or best subject.” Typically they all fall.

We then have a frank discussion about their anxiety or general dislike of math. Invariably someone shares a bad experience and then others pile on. There is usually, to the person, a story about an elementary or middle school teacher who had a negative impact. They weren’t patient, they didn’t explain something well, they were intolerant of different methods, etc. We then come to the agreement that no one in the room wants to be “that person” for a child they teach. We set a sense of urgency, not that they need to love math, but that they need to understand it and be able to explain it well.

In this class, it’s helpful is to get students talking about math topics, using math language, and directing them to find places for information how to learn topics better for themselves or for their future students. I have my students all pick a math topic of their choosing to talk about for 4-5 minutes. It can be recreational, historical, educational, really anything they want. However, they need to provide a source list for their talk.

I also use a portfolio as a major part of their grade in the class. Over the semester they collect information and put it in a reference binder or on a USB. Some typical components I might use are below. (I’m in the State of NJ but you can adapt to your state).

NCTM Executive Summary

Sample test questions, NJASK, PARCC

PRAXIS NJ requirements for license

Contact info for NCTM, AMTNJ, South Jersey Math Alliance

Compile a list of websites with math lesson plans

Children’s books in mathematics

Math Day activities

Marilyn Burns lesson plan or list of books

Contact info for a Math Manipulatives vendor

Sample lesson from Everyday Math site

Math Counts Toolbox

24 or Equate game

List of math related apps

Cut the Knot interactive puzzles

One Cultural History and One Biography link

Mathpower.com, Math Anxiety Suggestions

Dr. Math


Khan Academy or YouTube links