August 28, 2005|By Jon M. Andes

I HATED mathematics. Math did not make sense to me. In elementary school, I memorized facts and rules. Given enough time, I could solve basic problems, but I could not connect concepts.

In junior high, I began algebra. I memorized patterns. If a problem fit a prescribed pattern, I could, with some luck, find the answer.

I barely passed algebra. I rejoiced because I was free from math - until my high school guidance counselor told me that I needed an additional math credit.

I was disappointed and depressed. I knew that I could not survive another math course. On my high school class schedule, geometry was listed for the last period of the day, another bad omen.

If I was going to be successful in math, I needed a math teacher who practiced the three R's. I needed a teacher who could appropriately challenge me at my ability level (rigor), help me make sense of math given my knowledge and experience (relevance) and create a positive, supportive learning atmosphere (relationship).

On the first day of high school in my first six periods, each teacher reviewed rules, assigned seats, distributed textbooks and assigned homework. In each class, we sat in our seats and put book covers on our textbooks and started homework. As I walked down the hall to geometry class, I was overwhelmed with fear.

As students entered the classroom, the teacher enthusiastically welcomed each of us, telling us that in 42 minutes, we would learn ways to calculate the area and perimeter of different-sided figures.

The teacher gave each of us a piece of pegboard with holes and lines in the shape of a grid, golf tees and a piece of string. By inserting the tees in the holes in the pegboard and wrapping the string around the them, we created shapes. By changing the location of the tees or adding tees, we made new shapes.

Our first assignment was to create a four-sided figure and identify an example found in our daily lives. As we created a new figure, the teacher would challenge each student to create a formula to find the perimeter and area of the four-sided figure. Using the pegboard, the teacher forced us to prove the formula was correct.

Then the teacher told us to use the string to connect one corner of the four-sided figure to the other corner, making two right triangles. Next, we created a formula to determine the area of a triangle and compare it with the formula for the area of a square.

We used the pegboard, string and golf tees to make more figures, naming the figure, discovering the formula to find the parameter and area and giving examples of the figure found in our everyday lives.

Near the end of class, we were given a plat drawing of a property. We pushed our desks and chairs to the edge of the classroom and, using masking tape and the lines of the tile on the classroom floor, we re-created the drawing. Asking questions, our teacher prompted us to use what we had learned earlier to find points and area, and we began to understand the application of geometry to surveying.

As we left the classroom, our teacher gave us a piece of graph paper in the shape of a doughnut. Our homework assignment was to use the doughnut to find the area of the circle and create a formula for the area of a circle, and the next day we would have doughnuts and discover "pie."

Our teacher had set high expectations (rigor), used our knowledge to help us understand figures and the connections and the use in daily life (relevance) and created a positive classroom climate by taking time to connect with us (relationship).

As I left school and walked home, I was motivated and determined to find the area of a paper doughnut and excited about learning about pi. I had found a math teacher who used the three R's. I liked math.

Successful teachers are those who understand, apply and are constantly studying ways to realistically challenge students (rigor), make concepts understandable to students (relevance) and use a teaching style that creates a supportive learning environment investing in the success of each student (relationship). The art of teaching requires teachers to master the three R's, and master teachers are constantly refining and polishing the three R's.

Jon M. Andes is superintendent of schools in Worcester County.