It’s no coincidence that Mr. Williams is in room 314. Every student entering his classroom knows that mathematical Pi is 3.14 (and many can do dozens more digits). The legendary Mr. Williams has been teaching math for 45 years. Though he’s mainly focused on Algebra I to Pre-Calculus, he’s taught it all from number theory to non-routine problem solving.
His excitement for math is easy to see and his expertise and passion sparks the joy of learning in his students. It’s no wonder his middle school students’ rushed to sign up to decorate his door in our December Door Decorating Contest! (They won too.) We sat down with Mr. Williams to learn more about him, the teachers that inspired him, how BASIS Independent McLean’s Math Department is different, and the importance of math contests.
Why did you go into education?
I went into education because I absolutely admired my ninth grade teachers. They enjoyed teaching, they were smart, and they treated their students as young adults. When I attended junior high school, it included grades seven, eight, and nine. Very high expectations were set and serious content was presented by all of our teachers. We quickly discovered that learning could be both rewarding and cool. I decided in grade nine that I wanted to become one of those people.
What do you love about teaching math?
Math is simply awesome in every respect. There are almost an unlimited number of new concepts to learn and new discoveries to be made. Most think that math is overly complicated, but it actually describes our world and even the known universe with a beautiful simplicity.
Teaching allows me to help inspire others to discover the fun and cool facets of math by presenting topics and concepts far above and beyond course requirements. Teaching math also allows me to constantly learn new and exciting content when I research non-routine problems to present to my students.
Do you have a favorite type of math to teach?
I especially enjoy teaching a few elementary calculus concepts to younger students because they find them both comprehensible and fascinating. I also enjoy teaching levels of infinity first developed by George Cantor. It serves as a perfect example where an unbelievable concept is tamed by applying a few rules from Set Theory. When mathematics is strongly grounded, even hard to grasp concepts can be understood and even extended (an infinite number of levels of infinity!).
What makes BASIS Independent McLean unique as a school?
BASIS Independent McLean reminds me of an earlier time when excellence was celebrated and a strong work ethic was highly valued. Even younger students are expected to engage in serious learning and teachers are always encouraged to provide lessons that nurture higher-level thinking. This inevitably leads to classrooms where learning becomes contagious and fun.
What stands out to you about BIM’s math program?
The math program at BASIS Independent McLean, as with all BASIS Curriculum Schools, allows students to study advanced concepts at earlier ages if they are prepared and motivated. We have a middle school student taking a Post-AP Calculus course and two taking AP-level math, and our high school students are mathematically prepared to thrive in the most rigorous AP science courses.
What do you think about our SPORK tablet program?
I like the SPORK tablet program because it presents mathematics in a serious and coherent form. Many current math textbooks are infested with pages of confusing non-mathematical content. The authors involved with the SPORK program understand that mathematics can be highly motivating when important concepts are developed and discussed through examples derivations, and interesting problems. It is the thinking that leads to enjoyment of the subject not colorful pictures and unrelated activities. It is a very dynamic program because instant surveys of student progress can be used to inform daily planning. Content in subsequent lessons can be changed or enhanced based on both teacher and student input. BASIS.ed has plans to extend the SPORK program to other disciplines, thus students will be able to access much of their course content through one device.
We have a lot students participate and do well in various math competitions—mathleague in the lower grades, MathCounts in middle school, and AMC and AIME in high school. Do you think math competitions are beneficial to students? Why?
When I first started teaching math, I tended to dismiss math contests because I wanted students to appreciate and enjoy mathematics and not be burdened with training for competitions. Then I quickly discovered that many problems found on math contests were among some of the most elegant and interesting problems that I had encountered. Thus my philosophy towards math contests changed. They allow students and teachers to encounter content and problems not usually found in standard math courses and some students also enjoy testing their knowledge and applying problem-solving techniques in a competitive setting. Since BASIS Independent McLean attracts some of the very top math students in the area, we make certain that all students are provided access to compete if they so desire. For a new school the results have been quite impressive, for instance placing first in the Chapter MathCounts competition for all of our first three years and competing this year in Richmond as returning state champions.
What do you enjoying doing aside from teaching math?
Aside from teaching math, I still dabble in the martial arts after teaching Tae Kwon Do for over three decades. I also enjoy running (even on the treadmill), cooking, and hanging out with my dog Tyson.
Thanks for speaking with us, Mr. Williams. We love getting to know our teachers better. Keep an eye on our blog for more teacher and staff spotlights.
ABOUT MR. WILLIAMS
In the 2018-2019 school year, Mr. Williams teaches Algebra & Geometry, Algebra 2 & Geometry, and Pre-Calculus.
Mr. Williams has taught math in the Fairfax County public school system for over 40 years and in the gifted and talented program for over 30 years. Mr. Williams was the 1990 Fairfax County Public Schools’ Teacher of the Year, and received two awards for distinguished teaching from the Mathematical Association of America. From 1994-2000, he taught Math Reasoning for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer program. In April of 2006, he was appointed to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. In 2009, Mr. Williams served on the Mathematics Writing Team for the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 2010, he was appointed to serve on the Southern Regional Education Board Middle Grades Commission.
Mr. Williams holds a B.S. in Math Education from the University of Maryland. He holds a seventh degree Black Belt in Tang Soo Do. While he no longer teaches, he does still train on occasion.