"Social Justice Mathematician" Kicks Off First Annual SAS Math Weekend
Liz Torrey

In celebration of Mathematics Awareness Month in April, St. Andrew's Math Department organized the school’s first Math Weekend to “explore the beauty, utility, and fun of the discipline," explained Dean of Math & Science Harvey Johnson. Through workshops and speakers, students were encouraged to think of themselves as “math people” and to recognize how math is connected to their lives outside the classroom. Johnson described the weekend as “a huge hit—it was spectacular to to see the community realize how math connects to so many interesting activities and ideas," he noted. 

The weekend kicked off with Friday workshops run by faculty members and Dr. Gary Schiffman P’18,’22, who teaches economic science at Georgetown University and founded Giant Oak, a data science company, in 2013. Workshops centered on the application and relevance of math concepts to a wide variety of "non-math" topics, including philosophy, organized crime, gambling, technology, and competitive games, to name a just a few of the sessions offered. "I always thought of math as numbers, equations, and word problems,” commented Lois Lee ‘22, who is a member of St. Andrew’s Math Team. "But this weekend made me realize that math isn’t just about solving complex numbers—it's interconnected with everything that you do.” 

On Saturday, the student body had the opportunity to meet with and learn from Dr. Po-Shen Loh, professor of mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University and coach of the U.S. International Math Olympiad Team. Loh furthered the idea of math as “a microcosm of reality by showing relevance and connections across disciplines," he said during his talk. “Our role as educators is to make things innately interesting"—by which he means: fun. He engaged students by bringing volunteers on stage to demonstrate how to use math to win at Monopoly. After the talk St. Andrew's Math and physics teacher Chris Sanchez remarked that Dr. Loh “revealed the true fun and power of math—that it is, in fact, a beautiful synthesis of natural, creative, and analytical thinking.” 

Loh fundamentally believes that everyone is a “math person” if they model a growth mindset. “If you can rewire your reward system towards challenge, I highly recommend that,” he said. "What happens in math is that people run into walls. If you have a voice in your head that you are not good at math, you might think that’s why you hit the wall. If not, you might think—'That’s a wall. Maybe I’ll jump it.'"

"Math can feel like the hardest subject," reflected Dr. Johnson after the talk. "But Dr. Loh argued that—from a different perspective—it is also the simplest. Using deductive reasoning, one needs so few starting assumptions to get so much!”  “

One way Dr. Loh encouraged students to use math was as a resource to support social initatives. When asked by a student whether or not he considers himself a mathematician, Loh said: "In some instances I would consider myself a mathematician, but all I really do is wake up and think: how I can make this world a better place?" Loh also runs Expii, a social-justice math project that "brings learning opportunities to everyone regardless of their resources,” noted Dr. Johnson. 

Loh also held a special coaching session with the SAS Math Team. Using what Johnson described as “an unconventional coaching strategy,” Loh has guided the U.S. Math Olympiad Team to three victories on the world stage in the past four years. Pearl Mallick ‘22 described Loh’s approach to coaching as explaining “really advanced topics in a really simple way.” “When Dr. Loh was teaching us,” she said, “he didn’t use any math terms—he wouldn’t even say vectors. He just explained it in a way that made anyone could understand, even if you don’t understand math that well.”

  • Academic News
  • All School News
  • Homepage News
  • Mathematics News
Summer Reading & 2019-2020 Visiting Authors
Elizabeth Roach

Summer reading assignments and suggestions have been posted to the SAS library website. In addition to this year's all-School read—Transatlantic by Colum McCann—you are asked to read two other books from the required reading list, all of which have been recommended by St. Andrew's faculty.

Next year, we have several brilliant visiting writers coming to campus. We're excited to announce that Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award in 2009 for Let the Great World Spin, will visit St. Andrew's for a day next year. At the end of the school year, we gave all current students a copy of TransAtlantic. Students should bring their book back to school with them - we will be studying the novel in all English classes next year before McCann's visit.

In fact, as you read TransAtlantic, and get to know the fictional version of Frederick Douglass that McCann creates in its pages, students may also want to dip into the work of renowned historian David Blight, whose recent biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018), which just won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, among many others. Since we are always interested in how different disciplines can learn from one another—something you can see in the vast array of books suggested by the faculty—Professor Blight will be visiting on campus this year as well and will engage in a conversation with Colum McCann.

Additionally, in the fall, Richard Blanco—an American poet, author, civil engineer, and President Obama's second inaugural poet—will spend a day with our students. I strongly recommend reading his poetry collection In Looking for the Gulf Motel and his memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. In these works, he explores his Cuban heritage and his role as a gay man in Cuban-American culture. We are thrilled that he will be one or our visiting writers next year!

There is no summer homework beyond the required reading, but fun enrichment resources can also found on the summer work website, if you wish to keep in practice in your favorite subjects for the fall.

Summer reading assignments and suggestions have been posted to the SAS library website. In addition to this year's all-School read—Transatlantic by Colum McCann—you are asked to read two other books from the required reading list, all of which have been recommended by St. Andrew's faculty.

Next year, we have several brilliant visiting writers coming to campus. We're excited to announce that Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award in 2009 for Let the Great World Spin, will visit St. Andrew's for a day next year. At the end of the school year, we gave all current students a copy of TransAtlantic. Students should bring their book back to school with them - we will be studying the novel in all English classes next year before McCann's visit.

In fact, as you read TransAtlantic, and get to know the fictional version of Frederick Douglass that McCann creates in its pages, students may also want to dip into the work of renowned historian David Blight, whose recent biography, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (2018), which just won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, among many others. Since we are always interested in how different disciplines can learn from one another—something you can see in the vast array of books suggested by the faculty—Professor Blight will be visiting on campus this year as well and will engage in a conversation with Colum McCann.

Additionally, in the fall, Richard Blanco—an American poet, author, civil engineer, and President Obama's second inaugural poet—will spend a day with our students. I strongly recommend reading his poetry collection In Looking for the Gulf Motel and his memoir, The Prince of Los Cocuyos: A Miami Childhood. In these works, he explores his Cuban heritage and his role as a gay man in Cuban-American culture. We are thrilled that he will be one or our visiting writers next year!

There is no summer homework beyond the required reading, but fun enrichment resources can also found on the summer work website, if you wish to keep in practice in your favorite subjects for the fall.