Fellow Profile: Michael Phizicky

Michael Phizicky
  • G-TEAMS Cohort: 2013-14
  • Graduate Program: Program in Mathematics
  • Teacher Partners: Stephanie Greene-Hunley and Flor Robles
  • School: Peter Howell Elementary School
  • Grade level: 4-5
  • Topics: Elementary School Math, Investigations Curriculum

”Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things.”
- Henri Poincaré

Research Interests

Michael Phizicky is a graduate student in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arizona. His research interests are primarily in stochastic processes and probability. He currently studies random graph models with preferential attachment.

Classroom Activities

Michael has been working with Stephanie Greene-Hunley and Flor Robles at Peter Howell Elementary School. The partnership had two primary goals for the first half of the year. The first was to broaden students’ exposure to mathematics by going beyond the scope of curriculum topics. The second was to increase students’ willingness to engage with challenging problems. To accomplish these goals, students were given a week to work on “Marathon Math” problems. Many of these problems were delivered in the form of a game or a riddle. Students were encouraged to engage the problems through a variety of access points, from playing games to conducting “whiteboard experiments.” <\p>

In the second half of the year, the goal is to place more emphasis on writing clear solutions. “Marathon Math” problems were replaced by “Marathon Math Journal” problems which ask for clear explanations, using “math sentences.” Their work should be readable by another student in the class. The other goal for the second half of the year is to incorporate project-based learning.

Lessons Learned

The importance of student-centered learning has been impressed upon me again and again throughout the year. My past teaching experience is exclusively at the collegiate level, where I taught primarily in a lecture-based format. I would use questions to “check in” on student understanding, but not to drive the learning process. The elementary students at Peter Howell, along with my two teacher partners, have shown me that students only learn when they are truly engaged. I have tried to reduce my role as a discussion leader, and instead act as a facilitator for student discussion. This change of perspective has also given me an opportunity to observe the ways that students express themselves, and the size of the logical steps they can take.

Teaching Materials