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How To Be a Math Person

Guest Blog by Georgia Konopczynski

There is a picture I like to show my students. It says:
How to be a math person.
Step 1: Do Math.
Step 2: Be a Person.


It is a funny way to open the dialogue to an important topic. Many people grow up thinking they are a “math person” or a “reading person.” This could be because of many things. Maybe they have failed a math test in their youth, and it made them feel like a failure. They may not have gotten their math facts as quickly as their brother or sister. Possibly they got math quickly but had trouble reading or had an issue with stuttering, so reading in class scared them.

When I was in school, I got math quickly but did not like to read. My math scores on standardized tests and in-class were consistently higher than my reading scores, so I gave up on reading and labeled myself a “math person.” Because of this, I did not like reading class, I barely picked up books, and I did not try hard on my homework. The beliefs we have about ourselves tend to follow us throughout our lives. For example, sports came naturally in my life, and I remember hearing adults and coaches telling me repeatedly when I was young how good I was at sports and how I would “go pro” one day. Hearing these things caused me to label myself as an athlete, in the same way, I had labeled myself as a “math student.” The problem I found labeling myself as “Georgia, the athlete” was that I placed an expectation on myself that if I did not do as they said and make it as a professional one day, then I was a failure. I started to experience a fear of failing that led me to quit many things I enjoyed, including my favorite
sports!


One day at the golf course, I was learning to draw the golf ball, which is when you make the ball curve. I was worried about the possibility of messing up while people were watching. I knew how to do it, but I kept freezing up and overthinking the process. Finally, my golf coach Rob walked out about 20 yards from me and said something along the lines of, “Swing! Make the ball go around me! Do not think about it. Just swing!” I remember thinking to myself, “This guy is crazy! I could hit him!” but I realized Rob believed in me when I did not trust my abilities. Rob’s teachings helped me understand that golf is not who I am; it is something I do. If I make a mistake or do not play perfectly, it has nothing to do with who I am as a person. This was the first time someone had separated “me” from the “expectations of me” that I had put on myself or felt others had put on me. Rob’s teachings helped change my life and gave me a perspective on teaching students math. By teaching my students to be aware of how they view themselves and speak of themselves, they can transform their performance.

In my first year of teaching, I worked with 8th grade students in a Pre-Algebra class. As I watched students of all skills levels and personalities, one thing stuck out to me. Many students have things stopping them from reaching their full potential. The biggest thing I saw was a fear of failure. I noticed some students would not even want to start a problem for fear of doing something wrong. They always wanted help to make sure they did not make a mistake. Because of my past struggles, I felt equipped to help these students in the same ways Rob had helped me. Many saw improvements as they moved past some of the mental hurdles that had built up over time. One student went from being terrified of math to passing algebra the following year with high scores and letting me know later she was now helping her younger brothers succeed in math!

Last year I created a math course called “Preparing for Pre-Algebra.” My goal in creating the course was to give students a chance to build their Algebraic foundations in a stress-free environment. After experiencing my struggles, I desire to be the “Rob” in my student’s lives. Maybe they had a coach or teacher that made them feel as though they were not good enough. Or maybe through a series of events, they have labeled themselves, and those labels have affected their progress in math. Whatever each student’s story, I want every child to know they were created uniquely and beautifully. I want them to know I believe in them, and we will be on this math journey together!

Last year I created a math course called “Preparing for Pre-Algebra”. My goal in creating the course was to give students a chance to build their Algebraic foundations in a stress-free environment. After experiencing my struggles, I have a desire to be the “Rob” in my student’s lives. Maybe they had a coach or teacher that made them feel as though they were not good enough. Or maybe through a series of events they have labeled themselves, and those labels have affected their progress in math. Whatever each student’s story, I want every child to know they have been created in a unique, and beautiful way. I want them to know I believe in them, and we will be on this math journey together!

More About Georgia Konopczynski
My name is Georgia Gordon Konopczynski, and my students call me Mrs. K.  I received a BS in Physics with a Minor in Mathematics from Eckerd College.  I started out my teaching career in 2015 at a public middle school in Sarasota, Fl.  In my first year teaching, I received the Florida High Impact Teacher Award.  I worked with a range of students and classes, from 6th grade Gifted to 8th-grade E.S.E.  I enjoy playing sports and drums, and in my free time, I am heavily involved in a church plant with some friends here in Bradenton Florida.  My passion is teaching and tutoring.  I love how the Mr. D Math program makes math understandable, useful, and fun!