Ian Brown
Math Club & Marin Math Circle

Inquiry-based learning, student-led learning, authentic learning… these are pedagogical compasses I follow because I find they make the most sense in helping students on their own learning paths. 

The needles all point in the same direction: expose kids to deep concepts early, where they play, wrestle, and have fun actively doing so, and you make lifelong learners out of them, curious to learn more. Teaching learning skills--to question and extend beyond the simple, to interpret and develop answers, to communicate ideas verbally and in writing clearly--is inseparable from content as part of the collaborative, respectful learning contract between teacher and student. And when you put students at the center of their own explorations and decision-making, that makes them confident in their own abilities and judgment no matter the subject. That’s what goes on here at Golden Gate Learning Center, and I’m excited to add my experience to the mix. I would have thrived here as a student myself. 

My focus here is on math education, which, given my background, might seem a bit odd. Let me explain. I have a degree in English Literature and I bring a background in teaching middle school inquiry to gifted students (combined science and language arts at GATE Academy) and high school writing and literature (San Domenico). I've worked in financial journalism as a writer, editor and executive across TV, print, and online media. While I am a Marin native, I hold a worldview informed by inveterate traveling and having lived abroad for almost a decade combined in Finland, Germany, and the U.K. I love studying foreign languages. So why math? 

I have a kid who loves and excels in math. In trying to meet his needs and, frankly, to understand him better (he is a homeschooled 10th grader now in a graduate Algebra class at UC Berkeley), I set out to rekindle a subject I loved also until the seventh grade when one-worksheet-too-many at Mill Valley Middle School killed the spark of learning math for me. I have been involved in the mathematics community for years now in various capacities: teaching math to elementary students at GATE Academy; directing the Marin Math Circle and Bay Area Mathematical Olympiad (BAMO); and conceiving of, co-founding, and directing advancement at Proof School, a new private middle and high school for kids who love math in San Francisco. Along the way, I'vemet many parents, educators, and "math kids," and I've learned that math is a creative endeavor, one of problem-solving, pattern-spotting, and logic, and can be intriguing even for those students who don’t naturally lean that way--or don’t know that they do yet--when presented as challenge and exploration. 

My goal for students in math at Golden Gate Learning Center is to work with students through inquiry, history, story-telling, pattern-making, and computational thinking to make connections beyond straight computation--the pervasive addition-through-Calculus school track. Math shown how to be  made and discovered by real people (including ourselves!) sticks stronger than any formula handed down in some anonymous text. We need math facts, to be sure, but so much of what mathematicians get excited about comes from areas of math that are naturally playful, such as number theory, symmetry, and combinatorics, which are outside of most standard school offerings but are accessible and exciting to kids, even very young ones.  

We all know how math and mathematical thinking ability is an integral part of our modern world and thriving in it. We are lucky to live in a time when so many resources are available to make math meaningful--I have many to draw from and I am happy to share them. My real hope is that students will come home with math to teach, to share what they can do with their friends and families.