Dan Finkel

“Dan is by far the best math teacher I have had.”

“Dan is awesome. When everybody was comfortable with the class material, he’d bring cool math problems for us to think about. When we needed help, he was there to explain everything clearly and patiently.”

“This guy is the best instructor hands down.”

After completing my PhD in mathematics at the University of Washington, I decided that teaching math is the most important contribution I can make to the world. I’ve devoted much of my life to understanding and teaching the motivation, history, aesthetics, and deep structure of mathematics. Math is a maligned and mistreated subject, often mis-taught, often misunderstood. My goal is to give everyone the chance to fall in love with mathematics. Whether you excel or struggle, whether you’re a teacher or student, parent or child, if you want to learn what math is really about, I can help.

Background

  • Co-Director of Math for Love
  • Designer and Leader of Math Teacher Circles, under Washington STEM grant.
  • Launched the Robinson Center’s Saturday Math Program at the University of Washington
  • Regular contributor to the New York Times puzzle blog Numberplay
  • PhD in mathematics from the University of Washington
  • Excellence in Teaching award from the University of Washington (2005)
  • Taught college math courses (2004-2010), including
    • Math for Future Elementary School Teachers
    • Math for Future High School Teachers
    • Calculus
    • Differential Equations
    • Group Theory and the Rubik’s Cube.
  • Math Fellow in Seattle elementary schools under the GK-12 program (2005-07)
  • K-12 math teacher at Saint Ann’s School in New York (2002-04)
  • VIGRE grant to design and teach “An Invitation to Mathematics” seminar (2008)
  • Designed and taught “Turtles All The Way Down,” for the Robinson Center (2009)
  • Comedy Improv performer and founder of Quiet Monkey Fight, a Seattle-based improv theater troupe (2006-2010)

My Mathematical Autobiography

Math came naturally to me from a young age, and I excelled without having to work that hard. I was a relentless game player, puzzle solver, and maze drawer as a kid. In elementary school I was accelerated until there was nowhere to put me. I was done with calculus as a freshman in high school, and didn’t have any math to do for half of high school.

Even though I was good at math, what I learned in school often felt a little pointless to me. The teachers explained how to do some process (“Here’s how to use the quadratic formula.”) and then we copied them. Who cared? If that was all I had seen of math, I probably would have left the field to do something more interesting. But I was lucky: in the summer of ninth grade I was accepted into a math camp at Hampshire college. The math I did there, and the opportunity of getting to work with kids like me under the tutelage of real mathematicians changed my life.

That experience inoculated me against all future problems with math. Because I knew what the real thing looked like, because I had done math like a real mathematician and had seen the beauty, I was protected when someone told me that boring busywork was all there was to math. The deeper I went into the subject, the better it got. I graduated from Swarthmore College with a major in mathematics, and taught math for two years at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights. In 2004 I came to graduate school at the University of Washington, and in 2010 I graduated with my PhD in algebraic geometry. The whole time I’ve been wondering why kids never get to see the good stuff in math until they’re graduate students. Why is a typical math class at school more likely to be a place where students learn to despise math than to love it? Math for Love is my response to this state of affairs. I want to to give kids the opportunity to be mathematicians right now. I want to teach math to groups, to individuals, to parents, adults, and children. I want to give everyone the chance to fall in love with mathematics.

 

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