Math for Teaching, Math for Life
Approaching the 361st Harvard Commencement, we asked several degree candidates to reflect on their Harvard Extension School experiences. Below, Tasneem Mohammed, a 2012 degree candidate in the Mathematics for Teaching Graduate Program, shares some of her favorite memories and how the lessons learned in her Extension School classes have carried over into her own classroom.
I can unequivocally state that my Harvard Extension School experience has been truly one of a kind. As I reflect on the time spent at Harvard, my mind focuses back on the invaluable lessons I have gained in my classes, the distinguished faculty with whom I have created significant and meaningful relationships, and the diverse students with whom I have been fortunate enough to interact. I will look back on this enriching experience with a smile on my face, knowing that Harvard University has left a long-lasting impact on my life and my career.
I chose to pursue the graduate program in mathematics for teaching to further enhance my skills and knowledge base as a high school mathematics teacher. At first glance while flipping through the course catalog, I was enamored by the wide array of course offerings, and I could not wait to begin this educational journey that would be filled with challenge and excitement. An important factor in my decision to attend was the depth and quality of the education. I knew that there would be no better time and opportunity for me to grow and learn in such an intellectually stimulating environment. As a full-time teacher with a family to support, I was thrilled to learn that I had the flexibility of taking online and evening classes.
There were two classes in particular that I really enjoyed. The first was Math for Teaching Number Theory (archived course) taught by Andy Engelward. This class focused on using mathematical games, such as algebra riddles, card games, and games with dice, to enhance learning. I came away with a different perspective and a multitude of resources to motivate my own students. The second class was Mathematics and the Greeks taught by Graeme Bird. In this class, we were taught to construct polygons from scratch and prove areas and arc lengths, among many other topics. This course taught me to think outside of the box and developed my visual-spatial skills. Although I struggled at times to grasp the concepts, I was always encouraged by my professor and peers and challenged to think critically.
Pursuing my graduate degree at Harvard has taught me to approach teaching in a new light. I have learned innovative ways of problem solving that have helped my students in the classroom. I have become more informed and aware of various teaching styles, and I have implemented differentiated instruction that has proven to be successful.
I chose to take the capstone project over writing a thesis as I was most comfortable in a classroom atmosphere while interacting with other fellow students. The capstone experience has been both insightful and enjoyable. I have learned a lot about how to incorporate technology into a classroom setting, which is important in the current climate. The use of the iPad in the classroom, math-enriched interactive websites for student learning, and competency in math software such as Mathematica have helped me to revolutionize the learning in my classroom. One of my goals as a teacher is to engage and motivate my students. I believe that the capstone has helped me to make math more fun and exciting and change the viewpoint that “math is boring.”
Moving forward, I want to use my educational experience to help train other teachers and serve as a mentor. There is nothing more satisfying than spreading the breadth of knowledge I have gained to others. Another dream of mine is to eradicate the illiteracy rate abroad. I am currently involved in Project G.E.M. (Girls Education Matters), which supports girls’ education in Asia by providing funds and resources to build schools and train teachers. I hope to continue my efforts for this great cause.
As I prepare to graduate, I will miss the excitement of being on the Harvard campus. I will miss the history deeply-rooted inside the brick buildings, the long hours spent studying in the Widener Library, the sunny days spent lying on the grassy lawns of Harvard Yard while completing homework assignments, and most of all, being surrounded by a wealth of knowledge that remains unparalleled. With that being said, I will not miss the intense course workload, exam stress, or long commute from New Hampshire to Cambridge!