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You Can Quote Me on That!

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Blog Post #1 in the series "Finding Inspiration and Joy in the Words of Others"

The recent death of American author and poet Maya Angelou (1928–2014) reminds us all about the power of words. As she has said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper” (http://www.brainyquote.com). Words can inspire, provoke, exhilarate, arouse curiosity, evoke a smile or a laugh, bring tears, and convey one’s innermost thoughts and dreams.

For many years, one feature of my high school mathematics classroom was a daily quotation in an upper corner of my whiteboard for all to see. A new one appeared each morning without fanfare and remained visible throughout the school day. The quotes came from a variety of print sources (this practice predated the availability of the Internet as a source!) Often students would contribute quotations and quotation books to my growing collection.

I rarely called attention to the quotation; it was simply there as a thought for the day. When students would ask, “What does that mean?” or comment, “I don’t get [or like] that one,” a brief conversation might ensue. Each year, I observed that several students would diligently write each quote in their notebooks. I was happy that this small, subtle attribute of my classroom may have been stimulating student thinking, but its impact on at least one student’s lifelong learning was apparent at a graduation ceremony in which I recognized one of my classroom board quotations at the beginning of a student speaker’s address to the class. The statement was Eleanor Roosevelt’s: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

I continue to use quotations in my college classroom, particularly in the methods classes for preservice teachers. A wonderful source of mathematics-related quotes is Theoni Pappas’s The Music of Reason. Two of my favorites are these:

Wherever there is number, there is beauty.—Proclus (410–485)

The true spirit of delight . . . is to be found in mathematics as surely as in poetry.—Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)

We occasionally need to be reminded that the seemingly little things we do as part of our classroom practice have the potential to have a lasting effect on our students. A quotation of the day offers an invitation to all students to find their own meaning and value in others’ words.

Reference 

Pappas, Theoni. 1995. The Music of Reason: Experience the Beauty of Mathematics through Quotations. San Carlos, CA: Wide World Publishing.


Tom EvitsTom Evitts, TAEvit@ship.edu, is a mathematics teacher educator at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania and is the current president of the Pennsylvania Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (PAMTE). He is a frequent presenter at NCTM annual and regional meetings and enjoys helping others find, make, and strengthen mathematical connections.


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