Teacher Spotlight: Brian Schwartze

Globally the focus has been increasing on the education of girls in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. According to the Department of Labor, as of 2015, with women holding nearly half of the U.S., they still only make up about 24% of the workforce in STEM fields. Change is coming.

“I want to focus on engaging students in discussion and asking students to articulate their mathematical thinking as a means of making their understanding more clear and more firmly embedded,” says Mr. Schwartze. ICA Cristo Rey is partnered with the Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI) Teaching, along with other schools in the Cristo Rey Network. “Being a part of SVMI has encouraged me to make [rich mathematical thinking] a part of every lesson. We’re encouraging and honoring student voices in the mathematical process.”

A teacher of seven years, and coming to ICA Cristo Rey last year from Arrupe Jesuit, a Cristo Rey school in Denver, Colorado, Brian has reframed his own conversation in the classroom. “Now if I want to pose a rich problem to address a misconception, instead of funneling students to the tricky part and only identifying one error, I try asking things like ‘What do you notice?’ or ‘What do you wonder about?’ It puts the direction for the class discussion in students’ hands so we can meet them where they are. Rather than forcing them along a course I’ve charted, we can start with the ideas they already have and move forward from there.

“I’ve definitely noticed a growing comfort for the students in talking about the process as much as the product or solution in class. As we do things together, I’m less likely to get interrupted with ‘What’s the answer?’’ The students are more ready to articulate how they thought about a problem and then compare their process and thinking with others.”

Students clearly value Mr. Schwartze’s conversation through the current experience of distance learning as well. “Something I got from a fellow teacher, that they were doing in their distance learning classes, is a Google Form to check-in with each student. It asks generally how the students are doing, allowing them to share what they want without pressure. I think even despite the hard circumstances that brought it to light, it’s good we have become more aware of this. It gives us a chance to think about the students we teach. They are more than just a student in a classroom: they are individuals. As we move back to the on-campus classroom, I want to continue to offer opportunities for students to share, not just struggles but wins and successes too.” 

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