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
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:
there is number, there is beauty.—Proclus (410–485)
true spirit of delight . . . is to be found in mathematics as surely as in
poetry.—Bertrand Russell (1872–1970)
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.
Pappas, Theoni. 1995. The Music of Reason: Experience the Beauty
of Mathematics through Quotations. San Carlos, CA: Wide World Publishing.
Tom 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