Fellow Profile: Victor Piercey

Victor Piercey
  • G-TEAMS Cohort: 2010-11
  • Graduate Program: Mathematics
  • Teacher Parners: Cassidy Larkin and Jennifer McCloud
  • School: McCartney Ranch Elementary School
  • Grade level: 5
  • Topics: Mathematics and Computers

"As mathematicians, we can bring our experience and creativity into the classroom to help combat the declining mathematical skills of our high school graduates."

Research Interests

Victor’s research is in algebraic geometry, which can be described as the study of simultaneous solutions to polynomial equations. More precisely, algebraic geometers study spaces formed by patching together solutions to systems of polynomial equations, similar to the manner in which real manifolds are constructed by patching Euclidean spaces together. Victor’s area in algebraic geometry is moduli spaces. Sometimes, in algebraic geometry, a collection of spaces that have certain common invariants from a geometric space itself. Victor studies moduli spaces of configurations of points.

Classroom Activities

Victor has been working with Cassidy Larkin and Jennifer McCloud at McCartney Ranch Elementary School. Both partners teach fifth grade. A detailed, day-by-day account of Victor's experience can be found in his blog. Victor’s goals for his classroom involvement include:

Victor has learned a great deal during his time in the classroom. For example, he has learned how to deconstruct the single concept at the heart of a lesson and break it into bite-sized chunks that are simple, short, and to-the-point.

Lessons Learned

Using real-world data for applications of mathematics to real-world problems is a great motivator. We did just that with a stock market project. I introduced the stock market to the students and for the following two weeks, students tracked Pepsi and Coke stock prices and recorded the data in the form of line graphs. We then proceeded to the computer lab, where students chose a stock to "buy and sell." They recorded the price on the first day when they "bought" the stock. They then recorded the price of the stock a few days later when they "sold" it. They computed how much money they lost and sold. Some students even looked at news articles to try to understand what happened to their stock! The students were very excited to engage in this project. One student, who has failed but been passed along at other elementary schools, was motivated (I think at least in part by this project) to turn her performance around and has found greater success.

I think that if you break a complicated concept into bite-sized pieces and keep returning to first principles, young students will be able to understand that concept. I did this with my introduction to the stock market, and our discussion ended up including additional concepts such as interest. I also noticed that when the teachers approached complicated concepts, such as translating patterns in a table into an equation with 2 variables, the students did very well.

I have also discovered that student learning can be maximized by combining auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning. As an example, we added the following activity to a traditional auditory/visual lesson on the associative and commutative properties. We had the students each take an index card with a one-digit number. They walked around the room while music played, and when the music stopped they clustered into groups of three based on their proximity to one another. Two adjacent students of the three would link arms. The linked students would multiply their numbers together, and the product would be multiplied by the third number. Then the other pair of adjacent students would link their arms and the group would redo the multiplication. This illustrated the associative property. We told them explicitly that they were not allowed to reorder themselves, which illustrated the difference between the associative property and the commutative property.

Mathematics can be found everywhere and linked to any subject. We have done this in the classroom in several different ways. The stock market project is one example. In reading, students usually do a small 2 to 3 day writing project related to a reading selection. I have added mathematical components to a couple of these. One selection was about a space scientist, and the students were supposed to write a proposal to NASA suggesting an experiment they would like to conduct in space. I had them attach a budget. Another reading selection was about Paul Revere and it mentioned that Revere used to do his arithmetic for his various transactions in a journal, or a "day book." I had the students create an entry in Paul Revere's day book for a particularly busy day. We have also incorporated mathematics into the students' writing by occasionally having them do "focused writing" on mathematical topics.

Finally, I believe that while we can tell students that mathematics is powerful, it is better to put this power in their hands. Hands-on projects that can truly benefit a student's community accomplish this task, and this is something I would like to do more of in the future.

Teaching Materials