Making Math Fun
Sam Laury, is beginning his 6th year at FCS where he is K-8 Math Coordinator as well as the math teacher for 7th and 8th grade. He says FCS is a place where the students “represent the hope” he has for the future. After two decades working as an auditor for big corporations, Sam became a math teacher 21 years ago so he could spend more time with his young son.
He began his teaching career in New York City at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx. His first day in this new profession was September 10, 2001. The events of the following day taught him quickly what it means to care for students through a scary situation. “I’m pretty steady and I think that helps. I don’t rile them up to be in crisis mode.” Had Sam stayed in his previous job as an auditor for American Express (a job he left just two months prior) he would have been working right across the street from the Twin Towers. Sam went on to teach in New York City for 14 years before he and his husband moved to our area when his son graduated from college. That’s when he came to FCS.
Math is a subject some of us would associate with struggle and maybe even boredom, but that’s precisely the mindset Sam has always aimed to shift in his classes. “I love helping kids believe they can do it. Math, unlike other subjects, is one where people tend to sort themselves early and say ‘I’m terrible at math’ --something you’d never hear them say about reading. So I’ve always approached the work thinking I need to fix that.”
Much of the way he achieves that shift is through games where students get so wrapped up in the playing they don’t realize they’re learning about probability, statistics, equations, number relationships, etc. They even learn to “play” the stock market “investing” $10,000 and learning what they can do to make their investments grow over time and what factors make them shrink. “My whole strategy is to make kids enjoy it.”
Sam’s classroom is bright and inviting. The walls are covered in pennants from his lifelong collection. The colleges his family attended are featured behind his desk. More colleges are represented in the front of the room “so when students’ minds are drifting they’re looking at the colleges instead of staring into space.” Sports teams and nostalgic events are represented on the other walls.
He’s happy to be back in his classroom with students once again. “It is so much easier for me to know exactly where each student is in the process,” he explains. “I pretty much did the same things teaching remotely that I do now, but the ability to obtain the feedback that I need to best support each student is so much better in person.”
Over his many years of teaching, Sam says “what continues to surprise me, and the reason I want to keep doing this work is how mature and worldly my students are.” He says he learns from them every day. “They’re so much further ahead in terms of their thinking and understanding of the world than people give them credit for.”