Creating a Squad of Math Superheroes

Think of them as warm-up stretches – for the brain. Each one of Joe Koelsch’s 7th grade math lessons begins with a “bell ringer.” It encourages the girls to “open up their brains” before class, he says.
“I firmly believe that mathematics is inherently interesting when presented in the right way,” says Mr. Koelsch. “For me, that means allowing girls to think logically and make sense of things they see around them. It often means taking extra time to think deeply about something that we might only ever view from a surface level to see the logic that lies beneath it.”

“I enjoy his bell ringers because they are a fun way to get our brains pumping before we start our lesson for the day,” says Wright Prather '26. ”They also give us a way to look at math that we might not have thought of before."

Whether it is figuring out which potato chip-related theory doesn’t fit, or a “math talk” where girls work out a math operation mentally and then explain verbally what their brain did to solve the problem, Mr. Koelsch says he uses bell-ringers so girls engage in mathematics in a non-threatening and authentic way. It seems to be working. 

Kate Spiegelman '26 says Mr. Koelsch helps students succeed. “He encourages visual strategies and much more. Most teachers want you to work all in your head, but Mr. Koelsch likes us to use what helps us,” says Kate.

Mary Allen Wallace '26 adds, “Mr. Koelsch told me that it is completely fine to take my time and think through each step. It has completely changed my perspective of math.”

The journey toward a broader perspective on math began the first week of school with a discussion about why it’s important to study math. He shared stories of individuals who made unique contributions to the world through her work in mathematics including: Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman to win the Fields Medal, Kelvin Doe, a self-taught engineer from Sierra Leone, and Katherine Johnson, who overcame incredible barriers and racial injustice to create the calculations that helped put a man on the moon.

The girls’ assignment was to explain what they believed to be true about math. Ellie Palmer '26 put her graphic designing skills to work to create a squad of math superheroes. Her creation shows a new comfort level with math. ”Being in Mr. Koelsch's class has made me enjoy math more and made me feel like I am good at math!" she says. “Every time I make a mistake, I study my mistake and learn from it. I learned that math is for everyone, and mistakes help the brain, not hurt it. I feel like a math person more than ever now,” she writes.

“Mr. Koelsch makes math class a fun and safe place to learn. He understands how we feel and helps us to do the best we can, the best way we can,” says Wright.

Mr. Koelsch, who is in his first year at Hutchison, has been an educator for 10 years. Like all educators, he is navigating new challenges this fall. He pairs virtual learners together to work collaboratively on their own Google Meet to explore a topic.

“I then drop in to listen to their conversations and provide targeted instruction and feedback to support their developing understanding. This allows them to more authentically and actively engage in the material,” says Koelsch. “At the end of class, I bring them all back together to formalize the thinking they used and to summarize what they learned.”
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Hutchison is the leading private girls school in Memphis for ages 2 years old through twelfth grade.