I grew up in Jersey City, NJ, where my father ran an Italian restaurant. In the kitchen, I saw fresh ingredients become delicious meals. My uncle, an artist, lived above the restaurant. In his studio, I saw raw materials become art. They both taught me that making mistakes and getting messy were a part of learning. I became a teacher, so I could help students make things out of their ideas – and teach them that experiment is a natural part of math.
So over the years, I‘ve brought lots of “props” to math class, like a thousand Styrofoam cups. I invited students out of the classroom to talk a random walk based on flips of a coin. I designed virtual rabbits that hop to linear equations. I created a space in a school devoted entirely to mathematical play and investigation, stocked full of mathematically-themed objects, toys and books.
In 2019, I was selected as a Science Friday Educator, and contributed a lesson about how we can better understand the frequency of "100-year floods" by taking a “random walk”. This year, I began work as NCTM representative to the Mathematical Association of America's Committee on the Teaching of Undergraduate Mathematics. My goal is to build more connections between college and K-12 educators.
Over my 31 years as a teacher, I have often found myself learning from presidential awardees: at conferences, though books, and even (unbeknownst to me at the time) on the job. Watching these educators contribute to their colleagues’ professional growth spurred me to do the same. At conferences and workshops around the country, I have helped teachers make the most of their ideas so their students can do the same.
In 1999, I did “chicken out” on a PAEMST nomination, but the example set by those other awardees inspired me to apply in 2017. I am proud to now be counted among the group of presidential awardees. The award has further spurred my efforts to continue the PAEMST tradition of service to the teaching profession.