Daniel Woodrow: Using Problem-Solving to Expand Math's Relevance
Daniel Woodrow of Cleveland High School took the scenic route to teaching. He originally wanted to be a nuclear engineer, re-routed, and ended up managing a restaurant for much of his 20s after getting a BA in history. However, with a background in coaching and ski school, teaching was always in the back of his mind. By age 31, Daniel realized teaching was for him and he hasn’t looked back since.
Daniel Woodrow took anything but the usual route to becoming a teacher, but one look into his classroom and it’s clear that’s where he belongs. There, adaptability is the key to his success. With a wide range of students across his classes, from the highest achieving to the lower end of math aptitude, Daniel is constantly adjusting to make sure every student is best served.
Honesty is paramount in Daniel’s classroom. “I’ll be honest with most of my students the first day,” said Daniel, telling his students that “90% of what you learn in here you won’t use unless you go into construction or video game design or certain jobs.” That’s not to say that Daniel allows his students to think math is unimportant. He just takes a different approach.
The ultimate goal is to teach problem-solving strategies. While most of his students will never use geometry in their adult life, they’ll all need to understand how to observe problems and craft solutions. “That’s my strategy,” he said. “Use what you have to get to the end […] I’m looking for the process. Can you explain to me what you know?” He starts where his students’ knowledge starts and builds from there, helping the students see math as a problem-solving process and a frame of mind.
Daniel has a unique approach to the first day of school. “I teach the Cup Song from the movie Pitch Perfect,” explained Daniel. He stands in front of his students, does the routine, and tells his students to then copy what he did. Of course, most of his students are perplexed, and very few get it on the first try. “I did it seven times,” Daniel tells his students, before asking “why can’t you do it?” Daniel uses this to illustrate how math is learned. “I may put a problem up on the board and you don’t know what’s going on. That’s going to happen and that’s okay,” he said.
With problem-solving and being okay with struggle as the focus, Daniel offers math up as a set of skills that apply to life, even if indirectly. Daniel’s adaptable teaching style adds to this allowing him to meet his students where they are and gives them the greatest chance to reach their potential.
Photos courtesy of Daniel Woodrow