Melissa A. Benedict C & I 301 Math Biography 2 The student that I interviewed is a 21 year-old female who attends the University of Illinois. She will be receiving her bachelor’s degree in finance in the spring of 2004. In my interview with her, we discussed her mathematics schooling experiences in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, an affluent suburb of Chicago. Her parents specifically chose to reside in the district when she was young, because of its reputation for high-quality schools. The high school she attended served approximately 1,300 students, almost all of whom where white and middle-upper-class. She comes from a family with mathematical background: Her dad is the Math Department Chairman at Proviso East, and her mother teaches math at Proviso West. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first thought that comes to mind when she thinks of math is her Dad. Her definition of mathematics is the use of numbers to solve problems and make things logical. Throughout her schooling, she has done particularly well in math. In elementary school, she was enrolled in challenge classes, and then honors classes in junior high. In high school, she took Advanced Placement courses, where she always received A’s and B’s. Her highest subscore on the ACT was in math. When asked what she enjoys most about math, her response was getting a solution and knowing that it is correct. This seems to be a common theme for all math students, including myself. Obviously, she considers herself good at mathematics, as she has had much success in it. She first began to think of herself as good at math at a very young age. Her parents would often create extra worksheets and activities for her in order to polish her math skills. Her favorite math teacher was Mrs. Ellenbaum, whom she had for Intermediate Algebra and AP Calculus. She said Mrs. Ellenbaum made class enjoyable and knew just the right balance for letting students goof around and have a good time, and also get the work done. When asked if she used math outside of school, she immediately responded yes. She uses math at her job where she works as a teller at a bank, and also for paying bills. When confronted with everyday problems, she often thinks about them mathematically, and tries to solve them accordingly. Her math facts are excellent, and she knew some before even entering kindergarten. She was often ahead of the rest of the class, because of the extra practice she received at home. She has not had many bad math experiences, but the worst event that she can think of was taking the AP Calculus test. She had been doing very well all year in the class, but she found the test to be especially difficult and quite stressful. There was a considerable amount of material covered and on top of that, pressure to perform well in order to get credit. She did not get the college credit as she had hoped, and took two semesters of calculus at the University. She did very well in both courses, noting that seeing the material for the second time made it much easier. Consequently, her best math experience was during her first semester of calculus at the University when she received a 100% on an exam. She said that she understood the underlying principles of calculus much better than the first time she learned it, and receiving such high marks was a confidence builder for her. The element that she least enjoys about mathematics is the frustration that often comes with solving a difficult problem. She dislikes working on a problem for a long time and trying several methods when none of them seem to be giving her a correct solution. In general, math had always been easy for her until high school when the material became more complex and required a deeper understanding of concepts. For the most part, though, she has had positive experiences in math throughout her life. Her definition of algebra is understanding math with formulas, theories, and more general cases, instead of just numbers. She mentions that she uses algebra in order to figure out the rent for her apartment. With seven people and five bedrooms, she came up with a formula to figure out how much everyone should pay each month to make it fair. She has a tendency to take situations and put them in to mathematical contexts. Interestingly, she thinks being good at math means not only having a good understanding of the subject, but also being persistent and asking for help when you don’t clearly understand a concept. Math is one of her favorite subjects because she has met it with great success. To conclude our interview, I inquired about how important she thought math was for the general population. She answered that it is possible to get by without anything but basic math skills like adding and subtracting, but at some point you will probably need to rely on other people to help you with more complex mathematical situations that you are bound to run into. She believes that you are clearly at an advantage in life when you have good mathematical skills. It’s refreshing to know that there are students like her who realize the value of a mathematics education, and who put their mathematical knowledge to use. I also think that parental support is a key for the most successful students. The challenge then, is to prepare all students with a high-quality mathematics education, regardless of their educational background. Hopefully, though, students like the one I interviewed will be an inspiration for us that this challenge, although enormous, must be taken on.