Lindsay MacGarva, Bachelors in Mathematics '11

Math Tricks

How to Make Problems Make Sense

Lindsay MacGarva ’11 thinks of math problems as puzzles. For her, there’s nothing more exciting than solving one of these puzzles, except for helping other people solve them. That’s why she wanted to teach. At USF, she majored in Math and enrolled in the Dual Degree in Teacher Preparation program (DDTP). Now, she works at Convent & Stuart Hall High School in San Francisco, helping her students crack everything from algebra to pre-calculus to AP statistics.

How did USF and the Math Department prepare you for teaching?
I was a grader for Professor Cornelia Van Cott so it was interesting to see how she graded homework and gave feedback to her students to support their learning. I also got to work with students at various high schools in the city through the Loading... class with Prof. Paul Zeitz. I mainly went to Thurgood Marshall and Mission High School. In addition to my placements through DDTP, it was nice to see even more high school experiences in the city.

Some of the methods that Prof. Zeitz taught us I still use in the classroom. For example, he always mentioned that there was a "Crux" to the problem. That meant that there was one word or trick that would make a whole problem make sense. I try to think of what the "Crux" of problems is from the student perspective when I teach, because that is going to be what makes the new concept click for my students. I keep a drawer of other problems from Prof. Zeitz’s class for students to do when they finish their work early or in case I'm absent last minute as a backup lesson. It's fun to see the students engage with math in a different manner.

I'm also very grateful to Professors Van Cott and Zeitz because they are the ones that recommended me for the job at Stuart Hall.

Why did you want to major in Math?
I have always loved math and knew I wanted to major in it. I love the problem solving aspect of it — which is especially present in the Math Circle course. I come from a family of engineers and my grandpa thought bonding with me meant teaching me the Pythagorean theorem at the breakfast table when I was in second grade, so it's always been the subject I've gravitated to.

Why did you choose USF?
Every college I applied to had some type of math and/or teaching program. I knew I wanted to get a credential in a state that had reciprocity with most of the country so that I would be able to live anywhere and not have to take extra courses, which is why I looked at California. I have a close family friend who was a University Scholar at USF and I visited her and loved my experience with her. I came from a large public high school in Bellevue, WA so the ability to be at a smaller college where you could develop relationships with your professors was very appealing.

What are some of your best memories from the Math program?
I loved the guest speakers that the Math department would bring in. I actually try to connect with Cornelia to see if any of the speakers are relatable enough for high schoolers so that I can take some of my students. I also use my memories of those speakers to answer the common questions of "Why do I have to learn this? When will I ever use this? Why does this matter?" because those speakers explained so clearly how they use math in their jobs.

My favorite memory is related to the Math Circles class. We had to do our homework in groups and I became very close friends with one of my partners, who was also in the DDTP program. It was so fun to find someone to work with where we just clicked and could explain things to each other in such a clear manner. We spent hours in the library working on math problems but it never quite felt like work when we were doing it together. It's cool because now we're both math teachers living our dream and when we talk about teaching, we always end up talking and laughing about our time during the Math Circles class as well as other classes that we took.