f(teachers) = collaboration

The Falconer explores how the math department works together to create a challenging curriculum. How much do TPHS math teachers collaborate? The limit does not exist.

Nine classrooms in the TPHS B Building. Three in the E Building 100s level. Two in the E Building 200s. Four in the G Building.

Scattered throughout campus, they are the places we go to study math. Together they form the TPHS math department.

The math department is what Integrated Math 2/3 Accelerated Honors teacher Kristina DeVico and IM 1 Honors and Calculus D-Linear teacher Abby Brown called one of the most “geographically split-up” departments at TPHS. Still, the TPHS math department finds little ways to collaborate.

“It [is] good to know that the people around you [have] a wealth of knowledge in their head,” DeVico said. “You look at what’s not working, and you can go to one of your co-workers and talk about it … [and say,] ‘Let’s figure this out.’ And between all the brains in the room, something can be hammered out that works to make the kids feel like they are getting a challenging education.”

In the B Building, Brown describes DeVico poking her head into different rooms, asking her co-workers how to solve one especially difficult problem –– sometimes even the math teachers need a little math help.

After many years of teaching Calculus D-Linear and Advanced Topics, Brown has now added IM1H to her class list.

“Even though the math is easier than calculus, I hadn’t solved things like that and done that kind of thinking in a long time,” Brown said. “So having the support of a teacher who has been doing that type of mathematics for a really long time has been really helpful.”

Erica Soderlund, who teaches IM1H and IM2H, especially emphasizes the benefits of having common prep periods with both Brown and DeVico, allowing them to build curricula, exchange tips on best teaching practices and help each other out.

“I think given the chance, most [math department teachers] do want to collaborate and work for what’s best for students, which is a fun environment to be in,” Soderlund said.

Across campus in the G Building, geometric figures 3-D-printed in Brown’s classroom can be found on other math teachers’ shelves, ready for use in explaining some abstract topic.

“This year and last year when we’ve had topics that we needed to see models for, Ms. Brown had models of graphs and everything that both Ms. DeVico and Ms. Chowdhury have in their classrooms that they share,” Natalie Jalaie (11), a student in Chowdhury’s AP Calculus BC class, said. “[Which I think is] really cool.”

Upstairs in the E Building, IM3H teacher Robert Preske, along with IM3H and Intro to Calculus teacher Gino Campisano, have classrooms wedged between various English and Humanities classrooms. The two rely largely on “informal” means of communication, namely meetings between class periods while they wait in line outside the nearby staff restroom.

“It is informal because we are the only math teachers right there,” Campisano said. “At the [upstairs] staff bathroom, we’re there everyday between classes –– we’re just out there talking. Not usually about math, but often the math stuff [will] come up.”

Cut down to Room 405 of the G Building, where first-year IM1 and IM2 teacher Kendrick Kuo has set up camp:

“I was Mr. Preske’s teacher’s assistant 10 years ago, and this is my first year [teaching] at a high school,” Kuo said. “I’ve been having a blast.”

This kind of mentorship is common throughout the math department. One example can be found between the pages of DeVico’s lesson plan binders.

“I handed off all my IM2H classes to Robin Chen … so she has all of my binders,” DeVico said.

Binders with homework, keys, notes for IM2H.

“Being that she’s new, and she’s never taught high school before, she didn’t quite doesn’t know where to start,” DeVico said. “So I have kind of taken her under my wing.”

According to DeVico, the two go through the binders together, DeVico explaining her “silly notes” and giving advice from her years of experience. DeVico says that it is these little guidances by which new teachers are “taught how to fly.”

“It’s not that [Chen] has to do everything my way but she has a skeleton to start from,” DeVico said.

That process of sharing materials is a continuous practice even among TPHS veteran math teachers.

“I wanted to tell Ms. Soderlund how things went with my third-period class today because she’s going to be teaching the same thing with her blocks tomorrow,” Brown said, laughing as Soderlund popped her head into Brown’s room mid-interview. “Something I decided to do worked really well, so I want to share that with her.”

This kind of collaboration seems to exist in the very nature of math. There is one answer, and the more effectively an answer is found, the better.

“I think at Torrey Pines, the whole math department is very compatible and friendly,” DeVico said. “There are other [subjects] with philosophical divisions on how to teach and what to teach. And I don’t think we necessarily have that as much here … because we all respect what each other does want to be there to help.”

Photos by Caroline Hunt

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