Fellow Profile: Simon Stump

Simon Stump
  • G-TEAMS Cohort: 2013-14
  • Graduate Program: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Teacher Partner: Jenifer Martin
  • School: St. Ambrose Catholic School
  • Grade level: 7-8
  • Topics: Algebra and Pre-Algebra

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
- Carl Sagan

Research Interests

The Earth is home to an astounding amount of biodiversity. As a theoretical community ecologist, Simon uses the tools of mathematics and computer simulations to study the mechanisms that promote diversity. In particular, he is fascinated by the question of what subtle ways that otherwise similar species can differentiate themselves, and how this can allow for coexistence. For Simon's dissertation work, he is examining how herbivores and plant pathogens promote tree diversity. He does this by creating simple (or sometimes complicated) mathematical representations of tree populations, essentially to act as very precise thought experiments, and examining what effect different mechanisms can have.

Classroom Activities

Simon is working at St. Ambrose with Jenifer Martin, teaching 7th and 8th grade Pre-Algebra and Algebra. His goal with G-TEAMS has been to show students the connections between math and science, to build an intuitive understanding of mathematics. He have done this with a series of lessons on how to use mathematical ideas to understand science and real-world situations, such as population dynamics, gravity, and small business decisions.

On days when Simon is not teaching mathy science lessons, he often tutors small groups of struggling students.

Lessons Learned

One of my biggest challenges has involved getting into the heads of my 12 year old, and understanding what they are thinking, and why. In a former life, I remember reading a criticism of math education, which essentially stated that the main focus of math class is the grammar of math. I think I really get what that means now. I see many of my students struggling with manipulating equations, and so often it seems like they are parroting the steps of their teacher, without quite getting what it all means.

I think I have been spending too much time teaching college students, and I think I'm starting to see my students, well, like this. You really can't do that in middle school, you have to teach to the whole person. It has been interesting hearing from Jenifer, "That kid is super smart, but he just needs attention or he doesn't do anything," or, "The girls in this class tend to be shy because the boys outnumber them 2 to 1. It is the opposite in my other class." Additionally, in college, you try your hardest to treat everyone equally, but it seems like in middle school, it is often better to try to give each student what they need. It feels different to get used to.

Teaching Materials