Marist School teacher Rand Wise last month won an award for encouraging his students to participate in math competitions, and, in May, used his competition experience to become a runner-up contestant on NBC’s “Jeopardy!”

Wise was awarded the Edyth May Sliffe Award in August for his work with American Mathematics Competitions, which have students complete examinations. They move on to harder rounds if they score high enough. Wise said they are an “incredible means of challenging students to go beyond the math they learn in the classroom.”

Rand Wise was a runner-up contestant on NBC’s “Jeopardy!” in May. (Special)

The award is given annually by the Mathematical Association of America to approximately 20 teachers in the U.S. “who have done outstanding work in motivating students in mathematics through participation in one of the MAA American Mathematics Competitions,” according to the organization’s website.

Wise also coaches the school’s academic and math competition teams, which compete in quiz games similar to “Jeopardy!”

A teacher since 1991, Wise began teaching at the private Brookhaven school in 2014. He teaches calculus, geometry and problem-solving for math competitions.

Q: Why are you involved with the American Mathematics Competitions program? How do you think it helps your students?

A: I think it is an incredible means of challenging students to go beyond the math they learn in the classroom, and to apply the math they do know in creative and challenging ways. No matter how much math you know, there is always more math and harder math out there. Working with students on AMC questions is a nice way to get outside of a fixed curriculum and explore. It is intellectually stimulating and great fun; there is no other feeling in the world quite like the feeling you get when you finally solve a really tough problem.

Q: Why did you choose to go on “Jeopardy!”? What was the experience like?

A: I have wanted to be on “Jeopardy!” ever since I watched with my family growing up. It was definitely a “bucket list” experience. I was disappointed in myself for coming in second, but the experience was amazing. Getting to see behind the scenes, meet the incredible crew, talk with Alex Trebek, and getting to share the experience with my wife and son were fantastic.

Q: What attracted you to teaching at first?

A: I discovered even as a student that I was good at explaining things so that people could understand even complex topics. I enjoy learning and knowing things at a deep level, and setting out to teach challenges me to know things even more deeply than my students do.

Q: What keeps you going year after year?

A: I enjoy teaching greatly. Also, it is very rewarding to hear from old students who have gone out into the world and done amazing things, and who have grown and matured into responsible adults who contribute to their communities.

Wise poses at one of his students’ math competitions. (Special)

Q: What do you think makes a great teacher?

A: Someone who cares about helping people, who makes a personal connection with students, who knows their subject really well and fosters a love of that subject in their students, who is patient and forgiving, who can find a way to challenge each and every student to rise to their potential.

Q: What do you want to see in your students?

A: I want my students to give 100 percent; to feel comfortable making mistakes and asking questions. I want my students to love mathematics, especially if they come to me having had bad experiences with math. I want to see my students grapple with the “why” of a process rather than simply memorizing a series of steps.

Q: Do you have a project or special program you use year after year?

A: I have done some interesting projects over the years, but usually mix them up. I have had students build kaleidoscopes and produce geometrical art, and last year a fellow teacher and I had our students make geometry-inspired lanterns. We got the idea from the popular BeltLine Lantern Parade. In calculus, I have some favorite problems that I bring back every year, including designing things to optimize certain parameters.

Q: Is there a “trick” that works to get students involved?

A: My “trick” is simply a mixture of perseverance, humor and humanity. I try to make things student-centered as much as possible.

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