Fellow Profile: Nicholas Kortessis

Nicholas Kortessis
  • G-TEAMS Cohort: 2013-14
  • Graduate Program: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Teacher Partner: Svea Anderson
  • School: Agua Caliente Elementary School
  • Grade level: 4th Grade
  • Topics: Math and Science

"If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is."
- Louis von Neumann

Research Interests

Nick is interested in the way in which biological diversity arises and persists in nature. Nature is inherently variable. For example, temperature and precipitation changes from hour to hour, day to day, season to season, and year to year. Sea currents change, soil properties vary over space, and food availability changes over space and time. All of these factors that vary are important for determining the growth, survival, and reproduction of individuals. Nick investigate how species respond to these varying factors and evolve to the joint effects of changing environments and interactions with other species. Understanding how species' traits evolve that allow for species to persist is necessary to predicting and understanding the future of biodiversity in the face of environmental change. Nick uses stochastic equations to understand the evolution of species and their persistence in variable environments.

Classroom Activities

Students working with Nick experimented with food choice in crickets, measured properties of pumpkins (like circumference, weight, and seed number), measured properties of whole plants (leaf length, leaf number, and root length), investigated the properties of water that are conducive to life and conducted surveys to learn about mathematics concepts like proportionality, averages, multiplication, long division, and to a lesser extent, geometric growth. All these activities provide context for the mathematics associated with the measurement and interpretation of the physical and biological properties of the world. Particularly,the students have been challenged with understanding averages, proportionality, mathematical relationships between variables, and ratios. These activities also provided opportunities to advance computational skills of Svea and Nick's students.

Lessons Learned

Nick's experiences have been really useful in understanding the way that students process information and relating that back to teaching style. Nick has recognized through his participation in the G-TEAMS program that students need to tackle tough mathematical concepts many times over in different contexts to fully understand mathematical material. He has tried to incorporate as many mathematical concepts as possible into any activity he designs. He sees the value in integrating concepts into a single activity. Students seem most receptive to any activity when they are given historical and sociological context for a concept, a physical material that they can manipulate and measure, reading and writing components and mathematical practice. Group work is invaluable to Nick's teaching activities as the integrative nature of the activities challenge each student in the group.

Teaching Materials