Mathematical Instruments: Kate Nowak

March 8, 2013 § Leave a 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

Kate Nowak — f(t)

Apart from f(t), any places like other blogs, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, etc. we can find you on?

My twitter handle is @k8nowak, and I am on Google+.

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 spent eight years teaching high school mathematics, mostly at a large public high school in upstate NY. I would like to characterize my instruction, loosely, as problem-based learning, informed heavily by Piaget, Vygotsky, and Polya. Their findings translated to my classroom with variable success. But certainly improved over time, aided by reflection and feedback through blogging.

Currently, I’m writing lessons, and figuring out how to support teachers in teaching them well, at I think that we, as a profession, know all we can know about how to teach mathematics well. I see a bottleneck in implementation – how do we get US classroom teachers to actually do these things we know to be effective? I’m grateful to be in a position where I can try to figure that out, and help in a very concrete way.

When and how did you first discover mathematical blogs?

I think it must have been in my first year of teaching, feeling overwhelmed and clueless, desperately searching the Internet for ideas about how to get my job done.

What is the story behind the name of your blog?

It seemed like a good fit for an early-career math teacher sharing, reflecting, and learning. The point of view of f(t) has been pretty consistently “I feel like I am pretty terrible at my job, but I have moments of clarity, and through work, thoughtfulness, and asking questions, I can improve incrementally.” The name encapsulates that. The working name when I first started was “Mouse Trapezoid” which is TERRIBLE.

Why did you start?

I had things to say! Even with supportive colleagues, teaching is often an isolating experience. Formal observations and evaluations were helpful, but only occurred a few times a year. I was hungry for a place to articulate things I had learned, ask for advice, share things I created that worked well, and process professional articles I had read online and in print.

What do you write about?

Lessons that worked and didn’t work, how to put classroom content in a context that kids can grab hold of, activities and games that worked and might work for others, productive and challenging interactions with students. What makes this hard, and ways of thinking and practicing that helped me be more effective. These days, I am writing about lots of the same things, but from the point of view of a curriculum creator working to help practicing teachers get better.

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

I suppose it’s impossible to say. I don’t think I would have developed into nearly the teacher I am today without the professional interaction I’ve found online. Also, I probably wouldn’t have found my current position. Also, the company I work for wouldn’t exist.

What does the internet need more of?

In talking to teachers, I most often find that they would like to change their practice. They would like to tell a coherent mathematical story, present content in a way that is relevant and engaging to their students, emphasize the most important concepts, and show students how mathematical concepts are connected to each other. But they are afraid that the tests used to judge their worth will not be aligned with the stated goals of the new standards. They feel pressure to teach unnecessary skills in isolation, just in case they will be required knowledge on the tests. They are not shy about sharing these concerns online, but it feels like no one is listening. I think the internet needs more federal and state education officials, test item writers, and administrators engaging with practicing teachers and responding to their concerns.

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