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Stephenie Tidwell came to education by way of banking, so she knows a lot about applications of mathematics in the financial sector. That knowledge of the uses of mathematics in the real world will help her as she sets about a review in Princeton’s mathematics program intended to broaden participation by creating new course opportunities, particularly at the high school level.

Ms. Tidwell rediscovered her love of teaching when she realized that some of her mortgage department employees had trouble with numbers. She set up math classes after hours. “One person in particular said, ‘You know if I had had a teacher like you, I’d probably like math a lot more than I do’,” Ms. Tidwell remembers.

A few months later, Ms. Tidwell faced a personal reckoning. Like many people, she watched on television as a hijacked airliner hit the south tower of the World Trade Center in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack, she questioned whether she was doing enough to help others. Within months, she began teaching.

“I started by bringing what I knew about business into my math classroom,” Ms. Tidwell says. “I was teaching decimals and percentages by having students manage imaginary stock portfolios. They were given $10,000 in imaginary cash, they researched companies and had to present why they chose to buy or sell a particular stock. They were also learning how to calculate the return on investment.”

“It got to the point where I had teachers come to me saying, ‘Why does this kid like your class so much and hates my class?’” Ms. Tidwell adds. “So, I realized the need to teach teachers about engaging students in learning. That's how I became a supervisor.”

While Ms. Tidwell is only in her second year as Princeton’s supervisor of mathematics and business education, she has heard clearly concerns from teachers, parents, and students regarding the lack of math pathways for many students toward the end of their high school careers. She has decided to undertake a thorough review of the mathematics program from kindergarten through 12th grade to ensure it is as effective and equitable as possible. The first phase of the review, which she hopes to complete internally this spring, will be an assessment of course sequencing and of student demand for courses. The review will focus particularly on the transition from fifth to sixth grade and middle to high school. The longer-term goal, Ms. Tidwell says, will be “to develop a program that is more expansive than what we currently offer, both in terms of the opportunities and the numbers of students who will end up participating.”

Some of the course ideas that have been floated at the high school level include “introduction to data science, advanced algebra with financial applications, statistical reasoning in sports, visual mathematics, and math for social justice,” Ms. Tidwell says.

“We want to make all students mathematical,” she adds, “whether they want to go on to Princeton University , pursue a field that requires higher level math, or have an interest in a  career that requires a realistic, application-based approach.”

-- Justin Harmon

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