Skyping with a Mathematician

This spring I’ve been working with three fifth grade girls at Columbus Spanish Immersion Academy. These girls are amazing! They’re excited about math and ask such thoughtful and insightful questions.


Together we’ve been learning about our numbering system by exploring exploding dots. They’ve been creating their own theorems and explaining to each other why they are true.



The first day I met them I told them that there were still people (mathematicians) who study and create new mathematics. Their eyes got so big with excitement—they couldn’t believe it! We’ve spent some time talking about some amazing mathematicians of the past—Ada Lovelace, Katherine Johnson, Maryam Mirzakhani, and their favorite—Grace Hopper. They’ve loved checking out profiles of these women at They also loved the following books:

Women of Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotosfksy

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code by Laurie Wallmark

Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman


Then they asked if I knew any mathematicians, and I knew exactly who I wanted to introduce them to. Dr. Anna Haensch is a mathematician at Duquesne University. I know her because she was working on her Ph.D. in mathematics at Wesleyan University at the same time my husbad was studying there. I e-mailed Anna, who is currently on sabbatical and working at the Max Planck Institute in Bonn Germany, and asked if she’d be willing to Skype with the girls. She was willing to, so we set a date.


The girls were so excited about talking to a real mathematician. They spent three weeks thinking about what they wanted to ask her and checking out her website. Today they talked to her over Skype.


Anna gave us an overview of her work as a number theorist. Then the girls started asking their questions. They started out asking how she found the math problem she was working on. She told them that finding the right problem is a lot like making friends—it’s all about talking to people who have similar interests as you. They continued on with many questions: “How did you come up with the math you’re working on?”, “How old were you when you started doing math?”, “What can you use the math you’re doing for?”


The conversation really took off when Anna shared all of the places she’s traveled to while working on math: Hong Kong, Paris, Tanzania. The girls also came up with some questions on the fly that I think will help them as they continue to study math. They asked Anna “what helps you concentrate on mathematics?”, “Do you ever get tired of doing math?”, “what else do you like to do?” Anna explained that sometimes it is hard to concentrate—so she steps away from her computer or puts on her favorite music. Sometimes she does get tired of doing math, and that’s when she takes a break. She shared that she also loves to run and ride her bike.


Then it was almost time for recess, so we said goodbye to Anna—the girls asked her to visit if she is ever in Columbus.


It was amazing to see watch these girls talk with Anna. They got to see how math is a subject that is alive and can lead to many adventures!