Santa Cruz County Math Teacher Circle Under Way

The 2023-24 Santa Cruz Math Teacher Math Circle has officially begun. In a lively and collaborative session titled “Are Circles Always Round,” UCSC Associate Math Professor Pedro Fernando Morales-Almazon posed seemingly straightforward yet profoundly thought-provoking and playfully entertaining questions to educators across Santa Cruz County.

Math Teacher Circles offer an enjoyable and interactive platform for math educators to come together to engage in problem-solving activities, discuss teaching strategies, and exchange resources. In Santa Cruz, the Math Teacher Circle is composed of a cooperative community of teachers, undergraduate and graduate students, professors, and community members. The objective is to establish a supportive and enjoyable community of educators who can learn from one another and enhance their teaching practices.

Associate Teaching Professor and Undergraduate Vice Chair Pedro Morales-Almazon
Associate Teaching Professor and Undergraduate Vice Chair Pedro Morales-Almazon poses questions to the participants: How many holes does a straw have? How many holes do pants have?

This year, Dr. Morales-Almazan and Sumita Jaggar, a co-director at the Monterey Bay Area Math Project at UCSC (MBAMP), are organizing the Math Teacher Circles in partnership with Kevin Drinkard, Math Coordinator at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. Dr. Morales-Almazan hails from Guatemala, where he earned degrees in applied math and electronics engineering. He later moved to Texas and completed his PhD in mathematics before joining UCSC as an associate math professor. 

He shares, “My interest in math began during high school when I joined the Guatemalan Math Team. I realized that math was more than calculations and numbers; it was a way to describe and create. I enjoy solving problems, identifying patterns, and using math to describe the real world.” Regarding his work with designing this Math Teacher Circle, he adds, “Sometimes, conflicts, disagreements or uncertainty can arise from different interpretations of our definitions, prompting us to reconsider the language we use, or the level of precision we need in our definitions.” 

During conversations at this math teacher circle, the need for more precision was evident as several participants engaged with the question: How many holes does a straw have: “Suppose you were a tiny ant on a giant straw … would you see a hole?” … “Well, I guess that depends – is the ant on the inside or outside?” “If the straw is squished, does it have an inside and an outside?” … “Wait, what, exactly, do we mean by a ‘hole’ … ? ”

Over the past year, the MBAMP staff invited a diverse group of math professors and enthusiasts to facilitate Math Teacher Circles on a wide range of topics, including the mathematics of perspective drawing, “Mathemagic,” and other engaging topics. This year’s Math Teacher Circle topics promise to be equally exciting. 

Local teachers Beth Shafer (Mission Hill Middle School) and Andy Gersh (Pacific Collegiate)
Local teachers Beth Shafer (Mission Hill Middle School) and Andy Gersh (Pacific Collegiate) ponder the question: If we redefine what we mean by the radius of a circle, how might the value of π change?

Ms. Jaggar, who also supervises student teachers in UCSC’s teacher education program, explains, “Our goal is to feature mathematicians who can facilitate conversations based on their interests or research in ways that are accessible to, say, 5th grade teachers, who can then expand on those ideas to any level they desire.” Subsequently, the Santa Cruz Math Teacher Circles are designed to be applicable for all teachers, and especially those teaching grades 5-12 and college. 

Mr. Drinkard notes that “It doesn’t happen often enough, but when we can create opportunities for educators in public, private and post-secondary contexts to gather, to co-create meaning together, it can be pretty magical – and ultimately enhance the learning experiences that the math students in our community have.”

This year, the Math Teacher Circles will take place at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, with some sessions in Watsonville as well. They are in-person from 6:00-7:30 PM, and a light dinner is served. The dates are:

  • November 7, 2023
  • January 16, 2024
  • March 19, 2024
  • April 16, 2024
  • May 21, 2024

November’s session will be facilitated by Dr. Janette Shakalli. She is a Panamanian mathematician and CEO of the organization Fundapromat in Panama. It should be fun and informative!

The staff is working on a way for teacher participants to purchase graduate-level continuing education units, which they may apply towards advancement on the salary schedule. 

For more information on the Santa Cruz Math Teacher Circle, including locations and registration details, please visit the Monterey Bay Area Math Project Website. You can also subscribe to their mailing list here.