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Danny Jaye, Mathematician, Prepares the Next Generation for STEM
By Alberto Luzárraga and Leah Metcalf

Summer Scholars Academy

Top Row (L-R): YeeGee Cheng, Anna Juchnicki, Danny Jaye (educator & author), Eugene Lee, Cheyenne Hu. Bottom Row (L-R): Cyril Berrardo, Alexander Zhang, Daryl Sew

What advice can educators give students who are fearful of learning math and see it as an insurmountable challenge? Math phobia is like stage fright, says Danny Jaye, a math educator and author of the New York State math standards. “You wouldn’t tell someone with stage fright that they should never engage in public speaking.” In spite of the aversion that kids, as well as adults, have toward math as a subject, in every school in which Jaye has taught he has expanded and strengthened the math department.

He has served as the mathematics chair at Stuyesant High School — the most competitive public high school in New York City — as principal of Bergen County Academies, and he is currently the chief academic officer of Solomon Schecter Day School in New Jersey. Jaye also co-founded one of the most celebrated and influential summer math programs in the nation: the Summer Scholars Academy in Mathematics and Science at City College of New York.

Perhaps this program is one of his most notable accomplishments. Established with his longtime mentor and friend Dr. Alfred Posamentier, Jaye developed the intensive five-week math program for highly motivated high school students. First conceived “literally on a napkin” and started in 2001, Jaye says the program stands apart from other similar programs because it is tuition-free. Having had to endure a litany of funding changes and making due with limited resources, Jaye’s and Posamentier’s program still stands as a model for training future mathematicians and engineers.

Every morning students are presented with a specific problem that will introduce the mathematical theme of the day. Taking a break from their studies in the middle of the day, students have the opportunity to hear from a variety of guest lecturers, whether they are mathematicians, scientists, astronauts, or any number of professionals from a variety of diverse fields. One lecturer attempted and failed to swim the English Channel. Undeterred, he succeeded on his next attempt. These types of lectures, in conjunction with the City College professors who teach at the camp, as well as Jaye himself, all help to reinforce the principle that students must “dedicate themselves to a goal” and “never give up,” Jaye says.

Professor Issa I. Salame shared these wonderful questions:

  1. Who discovered Avogadro’s Number? Avogadro’s Number is the most famous number in mathematics. It was not discovered by Avogadro, but by Johann Josef Loschmidt.
  2. Who really discovered oxygen? Most people in France would say Antoine Lavoisier in 1775. Most people in Britain would say Joseph Priestley in 1772. It was actually discovered by Carl Wilhelm Sheele in 1770, a Swede.
  3. Are diamonds forever? People think a diamond is forever, but that is not true. Graphite lasts longer than diamonds, which means pencils are forever!
  4. Does ice melt faster in fresh water or salt water? Fresh water.
  5. Why does alcoholic consumption enhance the carcinogenic effects of cigarettes? Alcohol coats the esophagus, allowing the tar from the cigarette to penetrate the esophagus.
  6. Why do people drink red wine with red meat? The fat from the meat desensitizes the tongue and taste buds. The red wine has tannic acid, which cleanses the palate, so you can enjoy your next bite.
  7. Tomatoes were the first living things to be genetically modified. When did this occur? 1983.

A graduate of Stuyesant High School, Jaye received his master’s degree in math at City College. While sitting in on a high school class in the Bronx, he realized he wanted to dedicate his life to math education. After doing further graduate work with Posamentier, he returned to Stuyvesant in 1973 as a math teacher ultimately chosen by the principal to chair the math department.

One of Jaye’s first initiatives was to grow the size of the Stuyvesant’s student math team. Jaye cites this is as one of his proudest accomplishments, as the team swelled from its original size of 60 students into “a math army” of 450 students, he says. Jaye was able to achieve this exponential growth by changing the perception of what it means to be part of the club. “Math team is for the student who is great in mathematics, as well as for the student who is going to be great in mathematics,” Jaye says.

Jaye is a strong advocate for math education, citing not only its direct applications in academia, but its intellectual benefits as well. “Critical thinking and problem solving manifests itself everywhere. Math forces you to look at things from many different perspectives, and search for non-routine solutions — solutions that are not in front of your face,” he says. More specifically, math research teaches one how to “dig deep to extract information so that one can draw a logical conclusion (from the data).” He encouraged his daughter to apply each year for the citywide Math Research Project, not because she had any special penchant for math, but because of the investigative skills that come from examining a topic from the ground up.

Jaye is aware of, and sympathetic to, the struggles some students experience learning math. For these types of students, he explains, the teacher should always make it apparent to students why they are learning what they are learning. He tells students that a world of opportunity awaits those with a strong background in math. As Jaye sees it, educating students in math now is integral to the future success of the country. 

On a recent visit to Jaye’s summer program held for the 11th year at The City College of New York, a group of 66 students were enraptured and entertained by Professor Issa Salame who covered questions such as: who really discovered Avogadro’s number (find the answers in the above inset box in blue); who discovered oxygen; does ice melt faster in tap water or salt water; why might alcohol consumption enhance cigarettes carcinogenic effects, why do you drink red wine with red meat; when were tomatoes first genetically modified?

Throughout the talk, students burst into laughter while absorbing important information, the perfect atmosphere to maximize learning.

Students interviewed after the session were from Stuyvesant High School and the Queens High School for the Sciences. Many had been guided into an interest in science and math between the ages of 3 and 5 by parents — the majority were interested in careers in math, engineering or medicine. Some planned to apply to the Macaulay Honors College, MIT, Columbia College.

Instrumental in sustaining this remarkable free program for 60 young people were CCNY President Lisa Staino-Coico, a microbiologist; Dean of Education Doris Cintron; and Dean of Engineering Joe Barba.#



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