I am confident that every student benefits from learning to think mathematically as part of the process of becoming a more informed citizen of the world.

Jodi Black

For Jodi Black, it was love at first sight when she attended her first undergraduate abstract algebra course. She remarked to her instructor that although she didn't understand everything presented in the class that day, she thought the algebra was still the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

"I think that math has gotten a very bad rap in education," she says. "I can't tell you how many people I have met who, on hearing that I am a mathematician, will tell me how much they hated math in school, or that it was their worst subject, or that they liked it but just didn't understand it. What I hear in their comments is a challenge to me as an educator to create a different reality."

Black meets this challenge by encouraging her students to lead the class. She promotes a dynamic classroom where her students talk, move and think about problems rather than just sit and listen to her lecture.

"We as teachers are always ambassadors for our disciplines. So if I do a poor job teaching a course, far more devastating than my students' experience of me is their experience of the subject. If I ruin mathematics for my students they may never revisit it."

As a math ambassador, Black teaches her students how the discipline can help them think better, and how it can help them analyze all sorts of information -- whether the information comes to them in the classroom or in their careers. For example, non-math majors who take Black's introductory course will probably never take another math class. Black feels a responsibility to show them that mathematics is much more than just equations on a chalkboard -- that math skills are vital tools that will carry them through life.

"I am confident that every student benefits from learning to think mathematically as part of the process of becoming a more informed citizen of the world," she says. "The type of learning that can happen when we make connections between what is going on in the classroom and what is going on in the world around us is invaluable."

Posted Sept. 27, 2011

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