JoAnne Growney


From a STEM grandmother in Silver Spring, MD
Six of my seven granddaughters are school age; they all like math.
During recent visits, I have asked them to tell me about that liking.

WE like math!     by JoAnne Growney and six of her granddaughters — Carly Harrity (5th grade, age 11), Shayla Growney (5th grade, age 10), Mika Yamamoto (3rd grade, age 9), Emma Harrity (3rd grade, age 8), Serena Growney (2nd grade, age 7), Ami Yamamoto (1st grade, age 6).

Growney_1Sisters Emma (left) and Carly (right)

Emma, 3rd grade, likes multiplication. She likes finding different ways to get the same answer. Like 6 = 2*3 and 6 = 3+3 and stuff like that.  Carly, 5th grade, likes math “pretty well.” She likes using information to solve a problem. Like if you have 20 party favors and 8 friends attending the party, how many can you give to each.

Growney_2Cousins Shayla (left) and Serena (right)

Shayla, 5th grade, really likes division. She likes hard division problems involving 2 or 3 or 4 digits, problems that do not come out even. If dividing 3 into 5432, she draws a box in which she writes 5000 and performs a division, and then puts 400 into the box and performs a second division, and so on. She was proud to tell me that she is always in the advanced math class in her grade and that she always checks her answers. Still, in the evening when we chatted about math via Face-Time, she smiled with delight to tell me she had no math homework that evening.

Serena, 2nd grade, was the most daring of the bunch. She would make-up and try new problems that she didn’t even know how to do — questions like “Find a bunch of numbers that add up to 12.” Serena likes to work quickly and sometimes needs to be reminded to avoid errors by double-checking her answer. With a smile she posed for me a many-factors multiplication calculation whose last factor was 0.


Growney_3Sisters Ami (left) and Mika (right)

Ami, 1st grade, spoke quietly but seemed perhaps to like math best of all. She said that she likes thinking about math problems, thinking about how to solve them. When she thinks about them her head feels good.

When I talked with Mika, 3rd grade, she was just home from a 6-hour car-trip and excited about solving math questions from her parents involving the car’s odometer. If our starting was 698 and our number now is 769, how far did we travel? If the total distance is 378 miles, how many miles is half-way? One-third?

JGrowney-GGSTEMAbout the grandmother: JoAnne Growney is a retired math professor who blogs about math and poetry at She has this to say about her relationship with mathematics:

As a girl, I liked math and was good at it. Encouraging me to stick with the subject was the fact that my senior high mathematics teacher was a woman. On the other hand, in the background was the common notion that boys are better at math than girls. And that smart girls are not attractive. Novels like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle had given me a dream of becoming a writer, but the practical situation was that Westminster College offered me a science scholarship. Prodded by the wisdom of my mother who had been widowed and needed career training to support a family, I prepared to be a math teacher and after graduation began to teach in a school district near Philadelphia. Lots of circumstances later (including an MA at Temple and a PhD at the University of Oklahoma) I became a professor at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University. There, one day, a colleague asked, “JoAnne, how old were you when you knew you wanted to be a mathematician?” Since then, I have thought long and hard about the answer I gave: “I never wanted to be a mathematician.” I stumbled into the career. And it has been good for me.

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