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By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

This column is written for parents and grandparents of young girls who have shown an ability and an interest in mathematics.

For many years, females were discouraged from pursuing an interest in mathematics, but thankfully, that has changed. Yet the question might still be asked, what can a young lady do following her interest in math? To answer that question several women who were (and still are) math nerds will be highlighted.

Jelena Kovacevic grew up in Yugoslavia and states, “I’ve been a math nerd for as long as I can remember, and I’m proud of it.” She received her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Belgrade, moved to the United States when her father was the Yugoslav ambassador and obtained her Ph.D. at Columbia. She worked at Bell Laboratories and became chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon. Last year, she was appointed dean of NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, the first woman to do so in the school’s 164-year history.

Eleanor Baum realized early that her love of math was directing her to be an engineer, but in the 1950s females were not supposed to be engineers. One college would not admit her because they had no women’s bathroom. City College of New York admitted her, and she was the only woman in her engineering class. She earned a Ph.D. at Polytechnic Institute of New York and worked in aerospace before becoming dean of Engineering at Pratt Institute, the very first woman to be an engineering dean at an American university. She was appointed dean of Engineering at the prestigious Cooper Union and is now dean emeritus there.

Audrey Malagon grew up in rural Nebraska and was always interested in math. Fortunately, there was a summer honors program where her interest was enriched. She received a Ph.D. in mathematics from Emory University and is a professor at Virginia Wesleyan, where she shares her passion for mathematics. Her ultimate professional goal is to be a university president.

Not all females with mathematical ability become academics. Mary Barra obtained an electrical engineering degree from General Motors Institute, and, after receiving an MBA from Stanford, worked at General Motors and is currently the CEO of that corporation.

Danica McKellar had an early interest in math and received her mathematics degree from UCLA. She has written books aimed at exciting young girls about math. You know her best as Winnie Cooper on “The Wonder Years” television series.

Female math nerds have also become physicians, lawyers and politicians. Mathematical ability can be the key allowing a young woman to open the door to success.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fourth year as a volunteer at Butterfield E.S.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

If we are to have a massive increase in new high-salary jobs, we need to increase the supply of Americans with sufficient technical knowledge to be qualified for these positions. Some will require a four-year college degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program while others call for the completion of a vocational-technical program like ones available at Central Arizona College.

What has hampered Americans from completing the appropriate education is mathematics, especially in college STEM programs. Most of those programs require the successful completion of two semesters of calculus, while degrees in physics, engineering and mathematics require four semesters of calculus.

For years researchers have sought to increase the number of American students who can successfully navigate first-year calculus. College courses have been revamped and placement programs have been developed. Some researchers attempted to improve the preparation of students for calculus by seeking a solution at the high school level. Some have provided speakers and field trips to middle school students to motivate them to consider a STEM career.

To date these efforts have not borne fruit. What is the problem? The efforts to better prepare students for success in a STEM program were in the wrong school grades. It is in elementary schools where many students learn they cannot “do math.” Others see that math is a set of meaningless rules and give up on pursuing advanced math courses. What is the problem in our elementary schools?

Elementary classes are constructed to include students of all ability levels.

A fifth-grade class might contain a few students who still cannot add or subtract whole numbers as well as students who can already operate with fractions and decimals. The remaining students are at various locations on the learning curve. The teacher complies with the required curriculum. Students at the low end give up. Students at the upper end get bored. The origin of mixed ability classes is a desire to avoid labelling students (some may recall the Bluebird and the Redbird groups of the 1950s).

To demonstrate how illogical mixed ability grouping in elementary school math classes is, consider this scenario. Imagine all college freshmen had to take a Calculus 1 class as first semester freshmen. Students who had taken Advanced Placement Calculus in high school and who should be exempt from this course are required to be in the class – that is the rule. Students who barely passed math in high school and who should be in a remedial class are in the Calculus 1 class – this is the rule.

This scenario is both unfair and irrational, yet that is exactly what occurs in most elementary school math classes. What can be done? A future column will provide reasonable answers.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

More than a 100 math students from Maricopa High School competed at the Central Arizona College Math Competition. Submitted photo

On April 10, Maricopa High School mathematics teachers Grant Hanks, Jerri Early, Morgan Dalton, Rebecca Walker and Chris Ansley took 110 students to the Central Arizona College Math Competition at the Signal Peak Campus.

The students did a fantastic job and represented Maricopa High School well. Maricopa High School won first place in the School Sweepstakes, and 55 students qualified for the individual competition. MHS students won the following individual awards:

• Sharoon Balaguer Portillo and Alize Ramos won the Level 1 Team Competition (Algebra 1)

• Noel Avendanio and Patrick Flint won the Level 2 Team Competition (Geometry & Algebra 2)

• Chandler Chang placed 2nd in the individual competition

• Carter Paine placed 3rd in the individual competition

• Conner Paine place 4th in the individual competition



By Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Unified School District will go after a new math program.

Wednesday, the Governing Board approved a committee’s authoritative power to recommend a K-12 Mathematics curriculum for the 2017-18 school year. The adoption of the district-wide curriculum change is estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1 million.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said during a previous board meeting the district will pay for the curriculum using reserve funds to expedite the process.

Despite the price tag, supporters said updated math textbooks and curriculum are overdue.

MUSD Director of Teaching and Learning Krista Roden said the last time the district adopted math curriculum was in 2005.

Impassioned, Roden and the district’s director of Curriculum and Instruction, Wade Watson, set out to ensure Maricopa students no longer were taught from 12-year-old math books.

A visibly happy Roden was nearly speechless after the meeting.

“There’s no words; I feel like a giddy parent,” she said regarding the board’s decision.

Watson said their momentum grew when the school board asked about investigating the cost of their proposed curriculum adoption.

“As soon as they expressed that interest, we were on it,” he added.

However, the path toward adopting the math curriculum is a calculated process.

In a couple of weeks, a few district classrooms will begin piloting textbooks by three curriculum vendors: Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill.

From there, Roden said teachers will inform the Mathematics Textbook Selection Committee of the curriculum that works and those that do not.

The committee will then make a purchase recommendation to Chestnut. Once approved, MUSD will display the curriculum materials at the district office for 60 days.

The school board will make a decision whether to approve the recommended curriculum within the 60-day time limit.

Board member Torri Anderson was enthusiastic about the progress made toward the adoption.

“I know it’s a long process, but I’m glad we are getting started now,” Anderson said. “I would love for it to be done by May, but … I’m just excited that we are able to do this.”

Roden and Watson said new math textbooks will be on students’ desks come fall.

Outdated curriculum is not the only reason school officials are pushing for the adoption, however.

Students at MUSD are struggling with math, and Roden said new curriculum will raise achievement scores and garner more success on the AzMERIT test.

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Principal Janel Hildick introduces Butterfield AMIC students and discusses the AMIC program. Photo by Mason Callejas

Butterfield Elementary teachers and students presented Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board an update on the programs at the school during a board meeting Wednesday night. They specifically addressed the Advanced Mathematics Intervention Class (AMIC).