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Alumni Profile: A True Math Addict - Martha Anderson Cranor

Aug. 26, 2009

Recently Martha Anderson Cranor, who graduated from Baylor in 1973 with a BA Degree in Mathematics, was named as one of the six top teachers in Colorado by the CCTM (Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics). Now one would think that this honor would be hard to top, but subsequently Martha was chosen as one of the 32 "American Math Heros" in a nationwide competition by the Raytheon Corporation. Martha is a woman of many talents. She is an outstanding teacher at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, Colorado, a dedicated spouse and mother, and a cancer survivor (nine years ago). So how does she do it all? Beats me!

Martha gives the credit for her accomplishments to others. When I asked her for permission to write this profile, she said, "I will be glad to do this because I really feel that I am a large part of the teacher that I am because of my experience at Baylor." She also gives credit to her parents, husband, and sons, who have "put up with my math addiction" and to her colleagues.

Martha attended Baylor from 1973 to 1977. I asked her who her favorite professors were (self-serving note: I never had her in class). Here is what she said: "I really enjoyed studying under Danny Turner and both of the Hickeys. I remember the shock of failing my first calculus test under Dr. Jim Hickey. I hadn't ever had to really study for a math test before. He spent a lot of time helping me learn to study. He helped me so much that I was able to make an A by the end of the semester and subsequently enroll in the Honors Calculus II class. I remember the surprise I had when I found out I scored the highest in the Honors class on the first exam! I read his obituary to my students and explained, with tears in my eyes, that he was one of the greatest influences in my studies."

Martha met her husband Dave in the foyer of Moody Library; he maintains that when he saw her it was love at first sight! Dave is now a family practice physician in Fort Collins. Martha and Dave have two sons: David (a Baylor graduate who is beginning a Ph.D. program at MIT) and Matthew (an entering Baylor freshman).

After graduating from Baylor Martha earned an M.S. Degree from UTA and later, having developed a liking for statistics, worked toward a Ph.D. at Colorado State. However, family duties called and she did not have a chance to finish her doctorate (but it's never too late).

Since Martha has won so many awards, we certainly should say a bit about her teaching style. In many classrooms the teacher covers a topic by first lecturing and then having the students work through a lot of rote exercises. Martha uses a style called "guided inquiry." Here is her description: "For me in my classroom guided inquiry is the teaching method in which students are given a problem along with some carefully designed instructions and/or questions that guide students to solutions by their drawing on a variety of resources such as manipulatives, other students, their own ideas, and even research. After arriving at solutions, students develop conjectures and present their results to each other. I absolutely love the rich discussions that take place. It is also very scary for me because I, being the teacher, feel the huge burden of making sure that responsible mathematics occurs."

Here is an example of an activity that Martha uses: "I asked students to figure out how to cut a hole in an 8 1/2" by 11" piece of paper large enough for an elephant to walk through. After they did this, their homework was to research the Dido myth and then apply what they learned from this activity and the myth to maximizing area." Note from the writer of this article: I had to do a little research on this myself!

We were very pleased to have Martha visit us at Baylor several times over the past two years. She gave several talks to the students and faculty in math and math education, gave a talk at a conference for area teachers, and was part of the faculty for a two-week workshop for Waco middle school students and teachers.

It is clear that Martha qualifies as a true math addict. Her students accuse her of naming her youngest child Matthew because she loves math so much. She says that she just missed being born on Pi Day. (Her birthday is March 15.)

We in the Mathematics Department have enjoyed reconnecting with Martha and are proud of her accomplishments. We are also delighted when we are able to reconnect with any of our graduates; if you are one of our alums, don't be a stranger!