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Ayanna Perry is an Associate Director of the Teaching Fellows Program at the Knowles Teacher Initiative in the United States. She is a graduate of two Historically Black Universities, Shaw University (BS) and North Carolina Central University (MS). She earned her PhD in Mathematics Education at North Carolina State University and went on to co-author two Corwin Books–Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Secondary Math and Answers to Your Biggest Questions About Teaching Secondary Science. In her work, she mentors and coaches early-career mathematics and science teachers and amplifies the voices of beginning teachers and other educators.
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
My earliest experiences of math were spent with my family playing card games like Spades and Gin Rummy. These games taught me about patterns and strategy and began my foray into logic, memory and counting. One of my first formal math memories happened when I was around 12. During that summer I visited family in London and my sister and I were made to learn our times tables up to 20. That summer I enjoyed seeing the patterns in numbers and multiplication and I was geeked to know my facts beyond 12.
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
I’ve seen mathematics education shift dramatically in how beginning teachers are taught to engage with it. The development of the Common Core State Standards [in the USA] for content and mathematical practice provided shared language for what it means to be a proficient learner in math. Texts like Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students support teachers in investigating the impact of culture on learning, and texts like Bettina Love’s We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom help teachers understand why creating inclusive classrooms is so important. The knowledge is not new, but the prominence of the conversation about what it means for all students to belong in a math classroom and do math has shifted since my early years in math education. What hasn’t changed is the need for beginning teachers to be ushered into the field and profession of mathematics as emergent leaders. For example, the pedagogy and theory that beginning teachers learn in their education programs should be a source of innovation in their teaching placements, rather than ignored. Their enthusiasm and passion for teaching and learning can be a spark that reignites that passion in colleagues and departments. For mathematics education to continue evolving in ways that invite students to use math to support human endeavours, novice teachers' knowledge needs to be amplified and included in the research base of mathematics education.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
My first solo article was a challenging feat. I had recently graduated from my PhD programme and wanted to publish on the seven features of equitable classroom spaces which I had identified in my dissertation study. The challenge was I wanted to publish in a practitioner journal because I believed that teachers and practitioners would benefit from being able to reflect on whether these features were a part of their regular practice, given the impact on students. It took months of working with a writing coach to complete my first article and I am happy to say that since then I’ve authored more blogs, articles and books. But in some ways authorship is always a puzzle that I am figuring out and I appreciate the challenge of ensuring that readers can connect with the words I’ve crafted to share with them.
4. Do you practise mathematics differently in company?
No. I engage in math the same way whether I am working alone or with others. In either situation, I talk when I work on math problems. There is something about hearing the ideas and approaches out loud that helps me make better sense of the strategies. When working with others, I am talking but also listening to learn whether what I’ve shared connects to some idea in the group that has surfaced and to see what their responses raise for me. I am lucky to be able to engage in math problems as a part of my regular work and I love how much I can learn from my team when we take different approaches to solving problems.
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
I don't think brilliant mathematics teachers are born or made. They develop themselves. Brilliant math teachers, or teacher leaders, are driven by a passion for teaching math to students with the goal of their students seeing themselves in mathematics and seeing the ways they can impact mathematics. To be brilliant, teachers must articulate a vision of what brilliant means, including who is impacted by their brilliance and how it will evolve as they continue their careers. Brilliant math teachers have a plan for learning about
They also have a plan for
The network and collaboration are where brilliance is identified and nurtured. Brilliance takes time and investment and that can't be born or made.
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
I have the most fun when I am listening to my daughters' reasoning about math during homework, when we are playing math card games like Bold or Rat-a-tat-cat, or when I am putting together a 1000-piece puzzle. In these moments I can experience math and love together. A colleague and friend, Lou Matthews, founder of InspireMath, says that people experience joy in math when math points them to the people they love, and I think that is when math is most fun as well.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
I don’t have a favourite math joke, but there are a few that I find funny. In general, I also like jokes that some might consider corny. Either way, I laughed a lot at these:
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