BA, University of Texas; MEd, Texas A & M University; MS, Mississippi College
Gayla Dance came to Millsaps College in 1989 and teaches in the Mathematics Department. Dance stresses class interaction as a way of getting students to engage with their math classes. She says, “I have been known to say, ‘It is too quiet in here. I seem to be the only one talking. ‘ I encourage, applaud, and beg students to join in the class discussion. I continue to look for ways to motivate my students, and I’m shameless with what I will try. I always try to keep my presentations energetic and interactive. Also, I want to create an environment where students are comfortable enough to say that they do not understand. I do this by telling them that our classes are conversations, not lectures, and I encourage them to ask questions in class. To alleviate some of the anxiety found in many students in freshman level mathematics courses, I encourage group problem solving and extended guided practice.
“I love mathematics in its pure and abstract form, but some of my students have difficulty seeing its beauty. However, most of them respond very well to the applied side of math. I try to convey that math is the language of science and, as such, it can be a tool used for understanding our world. While their eyes might glaze over during the delta-epsilon definition of a limit in calculus, the students perk up when I show them using calculus that the B-2 Stealth bomber was built exactly wrong—it should be a flying fuselage instead of a flying wing. Because of the students interest in applied situations I have overhauled all of my projects. One class calculated the amount of stone and labor needed to build the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Giza, while another class used the Hoover Dam in a similar project. Yet another class had to prove for the defense that the McDonald’s customer could not have been burned by the spilt coffee, using Newton’s Law of Cooling. I could have asked them to work the same math problems in the abstract, but the context brought it to life and made it relevant to them.”