Mathematical Instruments: Sue VanHattum

February 22, 2013 § 1 Comment

This post is part of the series Mathematical Instruments in which we introduce you to some of the math bloggers listed on our site. Today:

Mathematical Instruments

via Wikimedia Commons

Sue VanHattum — Math Mama writes…

Apart from Math Mama Writes…, any other places (other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc.) we can find you on?

I’m editing a book with over 30 authors, Playing With Math: Stories from Math Circles, Homeschoolers, and Passionate Teachers, and we hope to have it out in a few more months, so I have a Facebook page to promote it (Playing With Math, of course). That’s about it. I have the Twitter and Google+ accounts, but don’t use them, really.

Would you tell us a little bit about yourself?  E.g., Where are you coming from (both geographically and philosophically)? What is your (scientific) background?

I live in Richmond, California, and I teach at a community college. I really want to make math accessible. I loved math when I was young. (At the library, my first foray outside the children’s section was for a book on codes and ciphers in the adult section.) Then I got convinced by the University of Michigan that I didn’t really like math, barely escaping with my math BA. When I found my niche teaching community college students, I needed a master’s degree to get full-time work. I got that at Eastern Michigan University, where I fell back in love with math. I then went to a PhD program at UCSD, knowing full well that it might be like U of M for me. It was, and I quit after a year. (I would have quit after a month, but didn’t want to lose my student housing.) So I knew I loved math, but wasn’t cut out for the rigors of a PhD. I wanted to teach.

I’ve been teaching community college for about 20 years, plus a few years teaching at other levels. I’ve always been frustrated at how little of the focus in math classes is on mathematical thinking. Almost 5 years ago, I had the chance to teach at my son’s alternative school and started looking for ideas online. I joined a homeschooler’s math list, Living Math Forum, which was wonderful, and discovered both math circles and blogs through that list.

That started me on a wonderful journey. These days I feel like I’m becoming a mathematician. It’s exhilarating.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

Kate Nowak’s blog may have been the first one I really followed. I met Kate at my first math circle training in 2008, and when she started her blog that fall, I started following it. She mentored me as I began writing my blog the next spring. (I had created it two years earlier and done nothing with it.) She also introduced me to Google Reader. I probably follow about 200 math teacher blogs.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

It took me a very long time to become a mama, and I’m very happy to be my son’s mama now. I like relating that to my other passions. And I want to try to be nurturing in my approach to math.

Why did you start?

I already had this idea in my head for a book about the math ed sorts of things that are happening outside the classroom setting. I knew I wanted to get Julie Brennan’s pieces from Living Math Forum on homeschooling, and I hoped to get material from people I knew in the math circle world. Since I teach in classrooms, it seemed like a good idea to bring classroom teachers into the mix, too. And the easiest way to do that was to join in on the  blogging party.

What do you write about?

It varies a lot. Here’s what I can think of (but I may be missing some):

What wouldn’t have happened to you without the internet?

My book! Becoming an editor. Becoming more of a writer. Becoming part of a community of math enthusiasts. Getting involved with math circles. Doing mathematics outside my teaching. Thinking about Pythagorean triples. Reading Math Girls, and The Cat In Numberland, Out of the Labyrinth: Setting Mathematics Free, and… (Learning how to use hyperlinks. Hee hee.) Watching Vi Hart videos. Becoming friends with Maria Droujkova, Amanda Serenvy, John Golden, and lots more great mathy people. Also, I would have been much more isolated as a single parent when my son was young.

What does the internet need more of?

I have no idea. Most of what I want, I find.

Your daily web reading (mathematical or otherwise):

You don’t want to know all of the blogs I read – there are way too many. But I can point you to some of my favorites. (When someone claimed that more men blog about math, I made a collection of all the women I follow. Your readers may want to check that list out. My favorite bloggers include: Malke Roesenfeld (homeschooler and artist-in-schools, integrating math and dance), Fawn Nguyen, Kate Nowak, Math for Love, Gary Davis, John Golden, and Christopher Danielson. My favorite non-math blogs might be Science Teacher(Michael Doyle) and Laura Grace Weldon. Holly Graff (an unschooler) and Michelle Martin (a 4th/5th teacher) post less often, but I love their posts.

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