In a low-performing, high-aspiring San Diego high school with Mexican, Somali and Asian immigrants, advanced calculus is the hot class everyone wants to take and the biggest club is an honors math fraternity. Jonathan Winn teaches at Crawford Champs High, a Gates-funded school within a school. From Voice of San Diego:
Picture Jim Carrey with a mathematics degree. Winn dons a furry hat and beats a drum to remind students of the steps in a problem. He shouts theatrically and chants questions, then shuts off the audience lights to talk about “finding the inner you.” They talk openly about masculinity and otherness in the dim theater.
“If there’s one thing I want to impart to you this year, it is that there’s an infinite amount of power inside you,” Winn declares. “This has been proven. What happens when you split an atom?”
“Nuclear bombs,” one girl answers.
“So are you saying we’re explosive?” someone jokes.
“Yes!” Winn is thrilled. “You can use this explosiveness for good or evil, for positive or negative.”
The 70-student class is structured like a college lecture class. It is open to all students who want to try.
Showing students how to separate the inner and outer parts of a complex function, Winn tells them not to let people classify them based on what’s outside.
“So in mathematics there’s also outside and inside.” He walks them through a complicated function that has two layers, one acting on the other. The internal part is called the u. “What we’re going to do today is take them apart and decide — who’s on the inside? What’s on the inside?”
. . . “It’s you! It’s u! We found u! You found u!” Winn shouts. The teens giggle. “You can’t solve a problem until you find yourself.”
“It’s hard not to get excited if he’s that excited,” Liban Dini, a Somali immigrant told reporter Emily Alpert. “Other people, they don’t think you can handle it. He says, ‘I know you can pass the test.'” He paused. “I feel like he’s just talking to me sometimes. Sometimes you feel like he’s just looking at you. The inner you.”
A colleague, Carl Munn, started the math trend at Crawford Champs by teaching fewer math topics more intensely and relating math to students’ lives. That created students who had a shot at passing AP calculus.
Winn spends up to six hours with students after school.
He and his students jointly pledge to bring “INTENSITY and DESIRE” to class, starting the year with a calculus banquet and a “circle of blessings” from parents. . . . Every student signs a contract for the class, promising to review for the exam at school on a few Saturdays.
Dini remembers being nudged to take precalculus. “I said, ‘Is it going to be hard?'” Dini recalls. “And he said, ‘Yes, of course it’s hard.’ But he encouraged me to do that. And I took that step.”
This is the first year Crawford has offered AP Calculus. It will be interesting to see how many students pass the exam to earn college credit.