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Mason: ‘Number Theory stresses creative thinking, problem solving’

Photo by Krishna Murugan ’16 – Students in number theory work together on their in class assignment. Number theory is a class for students on an accelerated math curriculum.
Photo by Krishna Murugan ’16 – Students in Number Theory work together on their in class assignment. Number Theory is a class for students on an accelerated math curriculum.

By Cameron M. Bray ’16

This year, the Math department created Number Theory as a brand-new course available to students studying the highest levels of mathematics.

Taught by Ms. Jessie Mason, the course lasts one semester and is available to all students who have completed Advanced Placement Calculus BC.

A relatively small class, as senior Brad Solidday ’16 put it, the course boasts 17 students—mostly Brophy and Xavier seniors—and it meets Period 4.

The course is a “pure” math class, as opposed to an “applied” math class like calculus or algebra, and it focuses primarily on mathematical proofs and the fundamentals of number theory, Ms. Mason said.

The course is unlike a traditional math class, Ms. Mason said, and it is challenging, though in a different way.

The numbers being studied, she claims, are not difficult, but the concepts and methods are.

“The numbers are integers, the numbers that fourth graders [and] third graders are used to seeing,” Ms. Mason said. “It’s the relationships between those numbers that are more complicated and difficult to see.”

She said that the course requires both creative thinking and problem-solving skills for a student to be successful.

One thing that makes the course even more unusual and unlike typical math classes is the way in which it is taught: There are no lectures and most homework is done collaboratively in class.

Ms. Mason doesn’t really lecture at all,” Solidday said. “She gives out packets for each of the chapters with different problems and different exercises, and we just do that in class.”

Solidday added that the course is very much student-driven.

“It’s very student-driven in that she’s only there in case we have questions and to give out and grade homework,” he said.”It’s student-driven but still guided by the teacher.”

Despite the difficulty and unusualness of the course, students say they are enjoying it so far.

Senior Josh Benjamin ’16 said his favorite thing about the class was doing mathematical proofs, and he said he enjoyed getting a new perspective.

“I really like Number Theory because it gives you a new perspective on math,” Benjamin said. “Number Theory is a back-to-the-basics class, only it puts it in a new way that you never would have thought of before.”

Solidday said he also found the course interesting, though he said he preferred some topics over others.
“I remember not liking palindromes (numbers written the same way forward and backward) that much,” he said.

Not only are students enjoying learning the material, but Ms. Mason said she has enjoyed designing and teaching the course so far.

One of her favorite things about the course, she said, has been the students.

“I love the students,” Ms. Mason said. “I think the students are fantastic because they all are intrinsically interested in math. It’s wonderful to work with students like that who are just excited to be working on this material.”

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