Janice Marsaglia, A Personal Approach to Teaching
Janice takes a personal approach to her teaching and sees the difference it makes for her students. “Many of my students find math very intimidating,” she says. “Sometimes I even get seniors in my class who have waited until their last semester to fulfill the requirement.”
To counteract this anxiety, Janice gets to know each student, leaves her door open so they feel free to come for help, and even emails them when they start skipping class: “Are you still with us? Haven’t seen you for a while.”
Throughout the semester, she finds ways to lighten the mood in her classes through her stories. When teaching about finances, she tells the story of an aunt who hid money all over her house. The students’ response: “People really did that.”
She also tells students about her own first calculator that required a nine-volt battery and that she carried strapped to her belt. “It was a big deal,” she tells students, “because it could calculate sine and cosine.” Sharing personal details like this from her own life make her more approachable.
A Reason for Math
She also works hard to explain the importance of math. She might begin with football, for example, and ask why football players warm up before a game—jumping jacks, push-ups, running in place. None of that happens in a game, she tells students, so why do athletes do it?
To get ready for the game, her students respond.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” she says. “We do not want to be a chaotic people. Because math is so structured, it trains your brain to be logical. You may not deal with numbers all the time, but the structure and logic that you learn through math will be important in everything you do.”
Most of all, she stays calm and confident and students. She tells them that math anxiety is a learned thing and that together they can unlearn it.
“I’m always looking for that little spark,” she says, “that shows I’ve done something that has made them believe, ‘Oh. Okay. I can do this.’” And more often than not, they can.
In the end, Janice’s own enthusiasm for math—she even calls it her “passion”— wins the students over.
“Students walk away with a very different feeling toward math than they walked in with,” Janice says.