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Mr. Luz: Teaching at the intersection of two worlds

Mr. Luz with Pascal’s Triangle (Vaanika J/Media)

Cleveland native, Mr. Luzniak, has taught math over the past 15 years in both New York and California. 

As a high schooler Mr. Luzniak participated in competitive speech and debate, specifically competing in the humor and duo events before becoming a coach and judge. Regarding his experience with speech, he said “I was a shy introverted kid in high school, and speech and debate, speech mainly, helped me get out of my introversion and be comfortable speaking in front of people. I don’t think I would be a teacher if I hadn’t done that.” 

When speaking about how debate specifically impacted him he noted how much it gave him a new perspective on problem solving: “I really learned that it’s important to hear out multiple sides of things, and that most things have multiple sides to debate. And that spills into teaching math. I think people think that math always has one right answer, and actually math is much more controversial.”

Mr Luzniak  “fell in love with math” in college and blended his experiences as a speech and debate person to develop a new approach to learning about math. He has a website, a blog, frequently posts on Twitter, has been featured on many podcasts and broadcasting networks, and even published a book, Up for Debate!: Exploring Math Through Argument, which emphasizes the importance of having debate inside a math class and which includesmany stories of students whose understanding of mathematics changed when debate was applied into the math class and made them realize how math is not just about whoever is the first one done in class.

His passion to blend both disciplines bgan whe he was teaching in New York City. He said he began his lessons the way he had been taught: “kind of just doing worksheets and just memorizing formulas.”  As an after school coach in speech and debate, he recognized how much his students were excited to  learn about topics like healthcare policies “or things that most people would think is boring.”

“I really believe in being a lifelong learner and want to keep changing and growing as a teacher,” he said. So he designed various projects such as having students figure out which credit card is the best, “but also thinking about when you’re solving like system of equations. He started to ask his students to debate before solving this problem: “What’s the best method to go about solving it, and sometimes a problem fits all three and you just talk about your favorite, but sometimes only one way is efficient.”

Mr. Kuz was approached by a publishing company that urged him to write the book since he was well-known for his speaking appearances at national math conventions. After initially refusing to proceed with his book, he was convinced by an editor, and in 2019 Up for Debate!: Exploring Math Through Argument was released to the public. His main motivation for writing the book was to put more good ideas about teaching out into the open. Now Mr. Luzniak tours all over the world speaking to schools and going to academic conferences.

 Another area of mathematics education that Mr. Luzis passionate about letting students use their notes more often on tests because he advocates how there is no right or wrong answer saying, “Too many people think there is a right answer for the way to teach math, like we should allow notes always or never, and I think the answer is actually a lot more complicated than that. I advocate for notes on tests, but maybe there is a test now and then where I want you to not use your notes. In general I am against a lot of memorization and I am pro or all in favor of using notes on math tests because having to do [math] without notes doesn’t exist in the real world the same way that it used to. Any formula I need, like the quadratic formula, I can google if I want. I think if we are going to prepare students for the reality of the future, we should let them use notes. And I think the act of creating a notes sheet lets you study and  organize your ideas. So I think it’s a win-win for the students studying and for their future experiences.”

Mr. Luzniak’s impressive background will be an excellent addition to the already very impressive CA mathematics department, and we are excited to see how the method of using debate in a math class will change how math is taught in the future.

For more information on Mr. Luz:

by Tiko Bdoyan


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