Mariaurora Rosso ’22 interviewed Anthony Panontin, who started at TASIS in 2019 and currently teaches IB Mathematics: Analysis and Approaches Higher Level and IB Theory of Knowledge to both juniors and seniors.
What professional experiences did you have before you came to TASIS?
Before coming to TASIS, I spent nine years at the International School of Amsterdam. I taught math and Theory of Knowledge there as well, but I was also head of the Mathematics Department. Before that I was a math teacher and the head of the Math Department at the International School of Turin.
Can you tell me about your educational background?
I started off my university studies in economics and then took a hiatus from that subject and spent two and a half years focusing on mathematics. I then went back and did a Master's Degree in Economics and completed a Bachelor of Education. So I ended up with an Honors Bachelor of Economics, a Master's of Arts in Economics, and a Bachelor of Education.
Several of your students have achieved a 7, the top score, on the extremely challenging IB Math Higher Level exam in recent years. How do you help them achieve that success, and how would you describe your teaching philosophy?
Typically, for the students who have a chance for a 7, most of it comes from them. But I'll tell you, the difference between a 6 and a 7 in Math Higher Level can often be the difference between a good day and a bad day.
Philosophically, I think my approach to mathematics teaching involves helping students develop a really strong understanding of main concepts and also an understanding of skills and techniques. It’s a conceptual understanding of the big ideas of mathematics that cements all the particular skills that students need to do well in any test situation. And then to get them to understand these big concepts, I like to do a fair amount of investigative work in my classrooms. I want students to try to make sense of mathematics on their own by playing a little bit with mathematical ideas and with mathematical techniques—and trying to come up with their own understanding of mathematics so that they can form these really strong conceptual understandings.
Why is STEM education so important?
In terms of STEM, my element here is math, so I can't speak about the science component. But I think mathematics is an important skill for students in general because it helps them understand how to think, and there's a logical deductive process in math that's good for students to develop, as it can be applied elsewhere.
And, of course, gaining an understanding of mathematics will help students apply the math needed in science too. There's a certain element of my teaching that has to focus on applied math so that students can think about how to model data that they gather—either in a social science or a natural science situation. Those modeling techniques are important to develop if they're going to take their math skills and use them in the science classroom.
What do you like most about teaching at TASIS?
Teaching math classes here is very interesting. I think one element of the IB that I like, and I know it’s a lot of work, is the Math Exploration. I like when students choose their own topic and then have a chance to make decisions on their own, pursue the topic in their own way, and do a bit of research and a little bit of investigation. But it's certainly a lot of work.
If you were to do your own IB Math Exploration, what would you explore?
That’s a tough question, but I think if I were in high school, I might do a theoretical one where I try to look for patterns in some aspect of mathematics that would have been interesting to me, which would probably have been in calculus. But on the other hand, since I went the economics route, maybe I would have been interested in applying the mathematics to a social science setting. It's hard to say.
You mentioned that you also teach Theory of Knowledge (TOK). I don't know a lot about TOK, but to what extent are math and TOK related?
TOK is broken up into different components. At the end of grade 11 and in grade 12, IB students look at what are called the areas of knowledge. Those are natural science, human science, art, history, and math—so mathematics is considered its own area of knowledge. We touch upon mathematics in TOK but don’t study mathematical concepts or ideas. Instead we talk about the process of gaining knowledge in mathematics and look at how mathematicians prove things by starting out with axioms. Overall, there's quite a bit of mathematics to cover in TOK. I would say it's about a fifth of the grade 12 year for IB students.