Made in Saskatchewan mathematics publication garners major honour

June 13, 2019

Ilona Vashchyshyn and Nat Banting, co-editors of The Variable, are both
enthusiastic proponents of making this nationally recognized publication a valuable resource for Saskatchewan teachers.

In the minds of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, there was nothing variable about it. The Saskatchewan Mathematics Teachers’ Society periodical, known as The Variable, recently won the 2019 Affiliate Publication Award, which places it in some select company from publications of the same ilk in North America.

Both Co-Editors Ilona Vashchyshyn and Nat Banting steadfastly maintain that it is their aim for the periodical to maintain its focus on Saskatchewan content, and in the process ensure it is digestible for not just the math aficionados out there.

Vashchyshyn, who started this project as a newsletter in 2016, said the idea has always been for it to be a resource for Saskatchewan teachers, whose contributions are very much sought after.

“We just wanted to have this as a resource for teachers to share and to establish a network. We’re always looking for new ideas and to dig deeper. We’re hoping to tap into what teachers in Saskatchewan are doing and we very much value their experiences. There is so much information out there online that it can be overwhelming and a teacher might feel lost,” Vashchyshyn remarked.

“Ultimately the material that we write about and share, we hope it will wind up in our classrooms and that teachers can find it to be a valuable resource,” she offered.

“We try to reflect diverse voices in the math community, and we encourage as much diversity as possible because that enriches the work we do.

“There are always different lenses to view the world, and as a teacher you really start to see that. It’s what sparked my passion for mathematics,” added Vashchyshyn, who had originally enrolled in the engineering physics program at the University of Saskatchewan.

Banting, who joined The Variable in a support role in 2017, said modestly that his initial role was to “lend an eye and to be a support, but it was already well-established when I came on,” he noted. “I wish there had been something like this when I was just starting out in teaching.”

Although Vashchyshyn insisted the periodical would not have gained this award without the contributions of Banting, the latter made a point of singling out the diligence and dedication of his colleague.

“It really has changed quite a lot, and we’re able to include more columns from different contributors. But this is always going to be her [Vashchyshyn] baby and winning this award is affirmation of all the work she has put into this. We both wear it proudly,” he said, when queried as to whether he sees himself as a “math geek.”

“Overall it’s about having the discussions about math and to contemplate how to apply the ideas and how they fit into the puzzle. It will always be about what we can do to help Saskatchewan teachers because it’s a very unique situation with the population being so spread out. We see ourselves as a conduit by the kinds of feedback we get,” Banting said.

As well as seeking contributions from mathematics teachers, there is also definite room for student contributions in the form of artwork, stories, problem solving or articles.

Banting, who is a consultant with Saskatoon Public Schools, can find himself in any of the system’s schools on a given day. He has always been a major proponent of pushing students’ thinking, including having initiated high school math fairs at Tommy Douglas Collegiate and later at Marion M. Graham Collegiate.

“If a student sees themselves as part of the process, that’s what makes it exciting to work on problems as a team,” he said, referring to the isomorphic experience whereby there can be more than one way to arrive at a solution to a math problem.

According to Vashchyshyn, “teaching mathematics to high school students [at St. Joseph High School] is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting jobs in the world. It allows me to continue learning and constantly leaves me surprised. Rarely does a day on the job go by that I don’t learn more about a mathematical concept or about the process of doing mathematics from my students.”

Banting concurred, noting how during the curriculum renewal process, that it amplified his interest in finding different ways to do things. “It constantly surprises me and it’s one of the nice things of being in education because you’re exposed to new ideas. It can be a very empathetic experience. The rigour and freedom comes during the process and then in the sharing.”

The periodical, which comes out twice a year coinciding with the semester turnaround, may be a passion of love for both, but it is also a massive project.

“When you come up for air, it’s pretty cool, and you want to have people feel connected,” Banting enthused. “We want this to continue to be by and for Sask-atchewan teachers. When someone submits something, to me that means they are proud enough that they want to share and so everyone benefits.”

If you would like to contribute or read more about what The Variable has to offer, check out www.thevariable@smts.ca.