“A journey in time… a crime… an unexpected finale.” So says the cover of the graphic novel, Who Killed Professor X? It could also say, “A fun way to teach your kids math.” “It is a work of fiction based on actual incidents, and its heroes are real people who left their mark on the history of mathematics,” says Thodoris Andriopoulos, author of the book and math teacher. “It takes place in Paris in 1900 and is the story of a murder for which the greatest mathematicians of all time are considered suspects. Each suspect’s statement to the police leads to a mathematical problem.”
Andriopoulos based his book on his award-winning game of the same title, which took third prize at the 2009 Microsoft Partners in Learning European Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna in the “Educators Choice” category – especially coveted, as fellow teachers judge the award. “Who Killed Professor X” is a dynamic project that allows the teacher to adjust parameters to account for curricular topics, level of difficulty, time duration, and application area (math, physics, etc.). Students are “detectives” who solve the murder case using the golden ratio, Pythagorean theorem, and various mathematical formulas and equations.
Here, Andriopoulos give us his thoughts on the importance of actively engaging students in learning, and why they connect to his approach.
Why has your project been successful with your students?
Students usually like detective stories, particularly when they can see themselves in the role of a detective who has undertaken the mission to solve the mystery. The lesson is turned into a creative game by giving incentives even to the indifferent students. Through the book’s pages, students will be able to know the stories of the most important mathematicians of all time and their work.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
In order to make my lesson more interesting, I always try to add many elements from the world history of science. In my opinion, such an approach adds greatly to the lesson because it broadens the students’ minds and arouses interest. If you want to transmit real enthusiasm, first of all you have to be enthusiastic yourself about the lesson content.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
I like inventing new games, which can be helpful for my teaching and also use advanced technology in order to make them attractive for my students. Here’s an example of what I like to do.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
One of the most important disadvantages of the Greek instructional system is the absence of long-term planning. Constant changes of the course material and teaching practices create obstacles that undermine the value of education and discourage the teacher from improving the quality of his teaching methods, bearing in mind that one change could overthrow all the planning.
What is your country doing right to support education?
The Greek Ministry of Education recently institutionalized a contest to award the most innovative educational projects. Personally, I think that the best recognition for those teachers who propose innovative ideas is the recognition from their students.
Additionally, for second year, my school organized a students’ conference. It was like a simulation of a scientific conference in which young students presented their works. Students also participated in the process of evaluation.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
The government needs to elect a National Board, which will be authorized to apply a permanent educational plan.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
Many teachers around the world have spent time and energy to bring new ideas into public education. I have attended the Microsoft Partners in Learning Teachers Forum in Vienna and the Microsoft Partners in Learning Worldwide Innovative Education Forum in Brazil. I feel lucky to have seen such interesting work. All those projects clearly showed that there are plenty of opportunities for innovative practices and many ideas that can be exploited, improved, or in any way adjusted for particular students’ needs.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
I would advise him to use his own imagination and to always search for new ways to improve himself. The constant effort leads to a constant renewal.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I always used to claim that students have to participate actively in the process of knowledge and due to that reason, we have to devote most of our lesson time to them, even if that requires the contraction of the teaching material. Students should not be passive receivers. Imagine yourself watching a movie for 6 hours. By the end of the movie, it’s doubtful that you will be able to remember the basic plot points.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
I would offer to every single child a computer and an Internet connection. I believe that the Internet provides many possibilities in education, and unfortunately we only take advantage less of 10 percent of its benefits.
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About Thodoris Andriopoulos
Math Teacher, Author, Thessaloniki, Greece
Birthplace: Athens, Greece
Current residence: Thessaloniki, Greece
Education: University of Patras, department of Mathematics
Website I check every day: http://www.mathematica.gr/
Person who inspires me most: Albert Einstein
Favorite childhood memory: I remember going on excursions with my family.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Boston, Massachusetts
When was the last time you laughed? Why? I am happy making my daughters laugh, so I laugh when they do.
Favorite book: “The Name of the Rose” by Umberto Echo
Favorite music: Rock music
Your favorite quote or motto:“Turn your eyes upon the sun and you will leave all the shadows behind.”