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Harty Makes Math More Interesting

Published 03/18/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 03/19/2013 03:30 PM

By Marji McClure
North Haven Courier

If Mary Anne Harty is your teacher, it has to be nearly impossible to hate math.

Mary Anne, a math teacher at North Haven High School for 12 years, strives to make the subject more interesting and less intimidating to her students.

"I'm always changing things. I never teach the same thing twice," says Mary Anne. "It doesn't stagnate. Every year is different. We teach different things every year."

When students ask her why they need to study math, Mary Anne tells them this: "I'm teaching you how to think. These skills are making you better thinkers."

Mary Anne is so enthusiastic about teaching, you might think she was always a teacher, but her mother was a math teacher, "so I resisted it, at first," says Mary Anne.

Instead, Mary Anne received a degree in human development and family relations. She had a job doing newspaper layout and considered working at advertising agencies, but she knew that wasn't the right career path for her.

"I was always good at math and I was always helping adults. I thought I could help kids, too," she says. "I understood math and wanted to explain it and make it understandable."

So Mary Anne went back to school and earned a master's degree in mathematics.

"It's definitely my calling to be a math teacher."

Mary Anne began her teaching career in 1987 and taught in Guilford and Madison before coming to North Haven. Mary Anne says she was happy to begin teaching in North Haven since she lives here and can now be a part of the school and local communities.

Mary Anne has three children, who are (or were) students in town. Julia is 16, Anna is 21, and Nick is 24. Anna was a student of Mary Anne's when she attended the high school.

"I've enjoyed teaching here," says Mary Anne. "I've worked with a lot of good teachers and we collaborate with each other."

The teachers are collaborating on a new common core curriculum this year.

"We're applying math to real-life problems," Mary Anne explains, noting that students are now getting more involved in the process, not just the steps involved in solving math problems.

Mary Anne currently teaches Algebra I for freshmen (both average and honors levels) and pre-calculus (honors). Mary Anne says she enjoys teaching the youngest and oldest students in the school.

"Anybody who teaches freshmen math sets the tone" for the students' high school career in the subject," says Mary Anne. "I take that seriously."

Mary Anne says she also enjoys seeing her students understand the subject.

"You can actually see the light bulb. It's great when things click," she says. "I want them to understand it. It's nice when kids come back a couple of years later and say, 'Your course helped me be successful.'"

Celebrating Pi Day

Last week, North Haven High School celebrated its sixth annual Pi Day (March 14 is recognized as Pi Day around the globe). Mary Anne and Marilynn Kramar started the high school's celebration. Today, Mary Anne and Kathy Johnson, co-advisors of Mu Alpha Theta (the math honor society), continue to coordinate the day's activities.

The 60 members of Mu Alpha Theta painted T-shirts to wear on that day, on which there were many activities, such as a Pi memorization contest, a Pi(e) baking contest, and a Pi table set up during lunch time that offered face painting and "mini-memorization" to get a Pi pencil. The contests were open to all students.

"It's generating excitement for mathematics and promoting mathematics in the community," says Mary Anne of Pi Day.

After School

When the school day ends, Mary Anne isn't finished helping students learn. She runs an after-school tutor program for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays for students who need extra help. Peer helpers also help the students.

"The students like to have students their age work with them," says Mary Anne. "The peer tutors say, by doing this, they understand math better."

When Mary Anne is not at the school, she is still quite busy. She sings in her church choir, hikes, exercises, reads, and does gardening. Years ago, she was also a Girl Scout leader.

"I'm busy, but they're quieter activities," says Mary Anne. "These things nourish me in other ways."

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