When Dr. Ryan Fox, an assistant professor of math education, talks about using math “in the real world,” he may be talking about more than just the grocery store or the office.
Fox graduated from Berry College in 1998 with a degree in math and from the University of Georgia in 2006 with a doctorate in mathematics education. He relocated to Belmont from Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2014 academic year, bringing with him prior experience teaching high school and middle school.
Now, he teaches both math students and future math teachers, delving into the complexities of a pupil’s relationship with the subject– his or her expectations and past experiences included– and emphasizing that relationship in connection to students’ learning methods.
Three years ago, however, Fox took his love of math outside of the classroom in a big way: he used it to win “Jeopardy!”
After taking a series of tests to determine his eligibility, Fox was featured on the game show in July 2011 and went up against champion Linda Percy. Though he did not play as well as he hoped in the first round, he managed to recover majorly in the second when the category “Colleges and Universities” was presented to the contestants.
“It’s one of my favorite questions of all time: ‘Of the eight Ivy League schools, it’s the only one officially titled as a college.’ If I had ever, ever, ever planned to make my own comeback on ‘Jeopardy!,’ it would have been ‘Of the eight Ivy League schools, it’s the only one officially known as a college,’” Fox said.
By the second round, the contestants were “on top of each other” in score, Fox said. It was with the final question, however, that Fox pulled out a win through his quick computational skills, deciding just how much money to bet on the final question to save him from third place.
“My heart is racing. I’m sweating profusely. I feel like I’m in one of those fry warmers. I could kind of put together the numbers here and here. I need to be conservative; I was advertised as a grad student in mathematics education, I didn’t want the math to be messed up and that’s why I lost,” Fox said.
The answer was “Charles I.” Only Fox would answer the question correctly.
“The cool thing that has always come form that is the reason why I won was because I had enough of an idea of how to manipulate numbers that, from a strategy standpoint, it didn’t matter what I did. If they got it right, there was nothing I could do,” Fox said.
Fox now uses the experience as a professional talking point, teaching students to use in their daily lives the analytical skills he used in the show and adding to his research on the complexities of learning in the math classroom.
He looks forward to pursuing his career further at Belmont and interacting with teachers in the community as he researches new ways to teach and connect students to math beyond the textbook.
“Professionally, what really drew me to Belmont was the opportunity to be both a teacher and a researcher. I don’t have to choose, and I feel like, in some ways, I am encouraged to develop both at the same time,” Fox said. “If I want to be a teacher of math, then I can teach math classes. If I want to teach future teachers, I can teach future teachers. If I want to work with future teachers in a research setting, I get to do that.”
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