Bielka Liriano ’13: Making a Difference with Math Education, Part 2


bielka photo 2017-04-17Bielka Liriano graduated from Wheelock College in 2013. She majored in Mathematics for Teaching and Elementary Education. She is currently a pre-school teacher at Horizons for Homeless Children in Boston. She recently sat down with Debra Borkovitz, co-chair of the Wheelcock College Math/Science department, who was Bielka’s faculty advisor.

In this second entry of this three-part series, Bielka talks about gaining confidence in her college math classes at Wheelock.

Read the full series.

Debbie Borkovitz: Do you want to talk a little about your first math class with me at Wheelock or any of your math classes?

Bielka Liriano: I told you before that it was so frustrating, especially when I had to write about my thought process pertaining to these specific mathematical problems or prove theorems, or explain the why behind the math.. But then I became mentally less defensive about it, it wasn’t a personal attack. I began to understand the purpose of such an exercise and it became clear that it’s not that you hate your students or your job ….

DB: … You did think of that as a possibility , right?

BL: … She must hate us … My more dramatic self thought that ……

DB: Its funny actually, I’m remembering … I think it was after the first semester of math 140. You were in my office and you were always just so quiet in class and then you were just so relaxed and laughing, and I think you were telling me that this is how you are with your friends. I remember saying “Do you think you could bring some of that to the class?” Do you remember that?

BL: Yeah, that helped me to relax too. You gave me that sense that my voice was valued I just thought, “Why am I so fearful? Just be yourself, Just relax.”

DB: Why do you think you were so fearful? Do you advice for other students?

BL: It wasn’t like a dramatic thing, but just from life experiences and just witnessing how sometimes people pretend that they’re genuinely interested in all that you are, but that interest turns out to be fake. So I built mistrust towards new people that I met.  When I was in a group of a lot of new people, I’d observe first just to get a read on people, and then I chose who to interact with or who I can see myself being calm and relaxed around.

DB: That sounds like a good strategy actually. And then how did you feel later on in your time at Wheelock, either in the math major or anything?

BL: I felt more confident of my understanding of math and ability to teach it … simple assignments that you had us do like the mental math practice; at first was annoying.  I wondered why would she want us to do it mentally and then talk about the process in our head to each other. Then I was just like okay, let me just keep practicing and keep doing it. Then as I heard the different methods that other students shared, that’s when I was just like “Oh, that’s why she’s telling us to do that.”  Something as simple as that, I appreciate so much. Especially now, I can easily go grocery shopping and give a good estimate in my head of how much I’m spending and how much I can afford. I’m also equipped with more than one strategy for solving a problem.

DB: That’s great. Was there a particular class or topic that stood out for you?

BL: When we learned about different bases … How to add, subtract and how to do all of that with a different base. It just gave me whole different understanding of our base ten number system and what it means, and how each place value  is broken down

DB: Can you talk about when we went to New York to visit the Math Museum?

BL: Oh yeah, that trip was awesome! I was super excited.  I didn’t even know math museums existed.

DB: Yeah well that was the first one in the U.S.

BL: And I just feel I had created this idea that, “Oh, not many people enjoy math there probably won’t be a lot of people there,” but the opposite turned out to be true!” It was really cool in there. I liked all the hands-on activities.

DB: I just remember when we were there because, it seemed like there was a birthday party there with about 200 children and 2 adults or something. I took my class there last year and it seemed to be a little better staffed that day. But I just remember the child to adult ratio was very high, and I remember you were doing that puzzle with the pillows on the floor and you were almost done and this little kid came over. Was he about 2 or 3 years old; you would know now right?

BL: 3 or 4.

DB: Yeah, and I thought, “Oh my, this kid is just going to come knock over what Bielka just did,” and you were just so warm, so excited. You just said, “Hey, want to help?” And I don’t see my students with kids that often. So that was really fun for me

BL: Yeah.  Having a welcoming and encouraging attitude when interacting with children is always my goal.