## 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:*

### 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):

- I read so many other blogs and get excited about lots of what I read, so I include lots of links to other resources online. This fall I participated in the New Blogger Initiation (Sam Shah got it going), which promoted over a hundred new math ed bloggers, which sent out lots of linky love. And for years I’ve written a post or two a year for the Math Teachers at Play blog carnival.
- Reviews of math–related books, articles, games, and toys. Often my posts have given me a way to process things I’ve read. I was doing a lot of research for the book a few years ago, and needed to think about it all. These days, I just want to share the things that get me excited.
- The controversy over whether or not it’s ok to think of multiplication as repeated addition.
- Resources I’ve created – a guided visualization audio track for people who get anxious about math (especially math tests), a poem about imaginary numbers, some puzzles and a card game.
- The boy I tutor who loves math.
- My classes, on good days and bad. Celebrating the good, asking for help with the bad.
- Lesson ideas.
- Math circles I’ve run.
- Mathematical exposition. For example, recently I wanted to find something online about centroids, since that topic is missing from our textbook and I wanted to include it in the Calc II course I was teaching. I couldn’t find anything good online, so I wrote something myself and posted it on my blog.

*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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Thanks for this post. I have enjoyed learning more about my mathy friend, Sue VanHattum.