Skip to main content

Back to High School!

Solving for X When We Don't Know Why

Even for those who enjoyed high school, it is rare to want to go back. However, Senior Honors student Annie Kim relives her high school years everyday as a mathematics student teacher at Salem Hills High School. Along with finishing her student teaching, she is working on her thesis and other final steps to graduate in December.

Walking the halls of a high school again has been bizarre for Annie. She remarked that all of her students are at least slightly taller than she is, and clearly more fashionable. When she gets home from teaching, Annie says she scrolls through Instagram to research what is cool nowadays to better relate to her students. On stressful days, she likes to remind herself of why she is pursuing a career in math education at all:

As a 6th grader, Annie was incredibly shy and struggled to voice her opinions. That all changed when a mathematics teacher, Mrs. Boley, encouraged Annie to speak out and shine. Ever since, Annie has wanted to be a middle school math teacher to inspire other students to find their voice. In addition to her major, Annie quickly found her place in the Honors Program at a New Student Orientation presentation. “It just felt right,” she stated. This choice was reaffirmed in an Unexpected Connections course taught by Drs. Richard Gill and Mike Call. This class released her creativity that has lasted throughout her Honors experience.

In writing her Great Questions essay for Honors 320, Annie allowed out-of-the-box thinking to transform her essay about processing loss. Inspired by “The Bright Spot,” a podcast, Annie framed her essay as a series of recorded therapy sessions where the narrator was processing what loss looked like and how to navigate around it. Using psychology, biology, and music principles, she was able to examine losses of her own and understand them on a deeper level. She felt similarly about Math 290 where she felt she finally understood the language of mathematics. Both classes helped her unlock the skills necessary to communicate in her field.

Using these communication skills, Annie is now finishing up her thesis on variables. Titled Solving for X When We Don’t Know Why: An In-Depth Analysis of Textbook Use of Variables, Annie uses her thesis to explore the different types and frequency of variables in middle school math textbooks. This was inspired by an assessment sent out by the Math Education department. On one of the questions, the students were asked to solve for tangent of x, instead of the more common tangent of theta. When faced with this very slight deviation, numerous students failed to get the correct answer or didn’t even attempt the problem. Understanding how variables are used can help teachers to guide students through sticky math problems. The most common types of variable is as a placeholder for numbers; we think about solving to find which number x is. Then there are object variables which allow you to add and subtract variables from each side of the equation. Others are name variables such as when there is an angle A.

To complete her thesis, Annie reads middle school math textbooks and codes each variable use as a different type. She is hoping that through this tedious work, students’ lives will be just a little bit easier. Truly, that is what Annie is all about, helping students in any way possible. Annie is from Parker, Colorado. In any free free time, she enjoys binge watching television shows with her husband and mothering her jungle of house plants.