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20: Rebuilding Mathematics Education w/ Sunil Singh

Ep. 20

Sunil Singh was a high school math and physics teacher for 19 years. Before he quit teaching in the classroom in 2013, he had taught everything from basic math for junior students to IB math for honors-level students. He has worked in a socioeconomically challenging environment of an inner-city school in Toronto and at the prestigious International School of Lausanne in Switzerland. His vast experience teaching math in every setting imaginable has helped him become a leader in creative math education in North America. Since 2005, he has given over 50 workshops on kindergarten to grade 12 mathematics at various locations—math conferences, faculties of education, and even the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. In addition to having been a regular contributor to the New York Times “Numberplay” section, Singh works full time as a math consultant for Scolab, a digital math resource company in Montreal, Canada. As well, he travels all over North America as a speaker and promoting Family Math Nights in local communities. He is an integral component of the Global Math Project, and his ambassador designation is helping him communicate the beauty and happiness of mathematics throughout the world. He is the author of Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics, and his next book, Math Recess, a co-writing endeavor with kindred math spirit, Chris Brownell, will be out in Spring 2019.

This podcast is roughly divided into two parts - the first on current issues in mathematics, the second on what change looks like and its implementation.

Sunil and I spoke about a lot that personally resonated with me. One factor I wasn't expecting were Sunil's opinions on a shift to personal finance from Algebra I and other similar shifts in "relevant math." To me, this was a no-brainer - utilize applied math skills instead of our traditional building blocks. However, Sunil noted that not only are these concepts simple - they don't necessarily reform the issues we currently have. His analogy: instead of rearranging the room of a house, implode it. This shifted my thinking on this concept. Math is much more than I give it credit for - and a math curriculum housed (partly) around justice, love, and happiness seems otherworldly. It's hard to comprehend in a culture that's so logistically focused on math - especially in the classroom. However, I believe Sunil's argument is well-stated.

Near the end of the talk, we highlighted one of the most important notions - can real change happen? How can we make a change now? We offered starting points: "find your tribe" on social media or in your building, try new things and be open to innovation, and fight. If you know what's best practice - you know the culture of your school - and you fight for change, but nothing is done even after organizing and preaching best practice? Then perhaps you're at the wrong place. Seek out a school that embraces what's best for children - a place where your voice is heard. They're out there in increasing numbers. Change in education is more than complaining, it's about taking action.


Sunil advised that all math teachers (or educators in general) watch Dan Finkle's "Five Principles of Extraordinary Math Teaching."

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