VP of Learning for Dreambox Learning, Inc.
Bachelor’s degree in mathematics with minor in Ancient Greek in 2001
MAE in Secondary Mathematics in 2002
PhD in Educational Leadership from St. Louis University in 2009
Math always came pretty easily to me in K-12 school, and I enjoyed helping my classmates make sense of math concepts because there’s elegance in mathematical structures and relationships. I chose to major in math because I was choosing to be a math teacher. I knew Truman had a strong MAE program, and majoring in math was a requirement to teach math, so I signed up (also, I didn’t want to grade English essays). Unfortunately, K-12 school mathematics is very different from collegiate mathematics. This remains a huge problem (I’ve written about it at length here and here). I had earned straight A’s in math my entire life until first semester at Truman when I received a C in Calculus 2 (I can’t say I earned it or deserved it). I also almost failed Linear Algebra as well. But I was committed to sticking with it, and some of my favorite classes were Discrete Math with Dr. Adams, Theory of Numbers with Dr. Tony Vazzana, History of Math with Dr. Belanger, Elementary Differential Geometry with Dr. Easley, and my graduate math ed courses with Dr. LaGrassa. As a freshman, when I chose to become a math major, I really had no idea the kinds of cool ideas about the universe I’d encounter. And the logic, reasoning, and ability to define key terms and relationships have been extremely useful to me outside of mathematics.
I’m currently the Vice President of Learning for DreamBox Learning, Inc in Bellevue, WA which is a few minutes east of Seattle. We make innovative math lessons for students in grades K-8 that are built on an adaptive learning platform that enables students to move at their own pace along individualized learning pathways. I oversee the development of the math lessons to make sure they’re conceptually accurate and engage students in truly independent math thinking (we don’t have any digitized lectures). I also support our sales and marketing teams so they understand more about our lessons, the mathematics, and how educators think about supporting students in math. Prior to being promoted to VP at DreamBox last November, I was the Senior Director of Curriculum Design at DreamBox for 4 years. Before that, I was in suburban St. Louis, where I spent 5 years as the K-12 Math Curriculum Coordinator for the Parkway School District. Before that I spent 5 years teaching math at Pattonville High School, also in suburban St. Louis. I had left the classroom to pursue educational leadership opportunities. The district math leadership role in Parkway was a great fit that enabled me to help with new teacher induction and big picture, systemic problem solving.
How I use math in my job:
If math is equivalent to “what mathematicians do?” as described in this AMS article as abstract/deduct/induct, then I do math all the time. Sure, I help make lessons for K-8 students so they can understand deeply that angle is a measurement of rotation and also know the distinctions between ratios and fractions. But I also work with school leaders and our product management teams to really get down to what schools want and need for students and teachers and how DreamBox can create innovative ways to deliver on those wants and needs. We have many programmers at DreamBox, some of whom majored in mathematics.
Advice to Truman students getting ready to hit the job market:
It sounds cliché, but it’s true: pursue opportunities that exist at the intersection of your talents, passions, and compensation. When you’re good at something you love that someone will also pay you to do, you’re in a good spot. You want to wake up every day excited to go to work if you can. It makes all the difference in the world because you’re happier in your professional and personal relationships. You might need to start your own company to make that happen. Go to graduate school with a clear purpose, and be sure it fills a legitimate need that will open the doors you want to open. I couldn’t have been a superintendent without my PhD. But I also had never envisioned a future outside of public education. So while my degree is useful, it is perhaps not essential in my current job. I can’t say for sure that it opened doors, but my graduate degrees gives me credibility in the communities where I currently need credibility. I’m passionate about education, so my degree will always have value for me. But be prepared for change, and also know that there are far more companies, organizations, and roles out there than you can imagine. Having the habits of mind of a mathematician enables you to be a strategic thinker and drive to solutions for pressing problems in virtually any organization. That talent brings value in non-profits and the private sector alike. Many of our programmers are excited to be contributing to education software instead of optimizing UI for people to have a better experience paying their cell phone bills online. They want their work to have purpose. Speaking of cell phones, when I was a senior at Truman in spring 2001, I led a spring break mission trip to Malibu, CA with 200 Truman students. We were caravanning with a ton of vehicles and needed communication. Hoping to get beyond the CB radios we had used in years earlier, we asked for student volunteers who had cell phones. Only THREE students had cell phones, and none of them had coverage outside of Missouri, let alone along the highway all the way to CA. At that time, Truman’s dorms didn’t have A/C or wifi back then either (ethernet had just been installed). So, things will change. Having a job for longer than 5 years seems odd to many people in Seattle in the tech sector.
Check out this video of Tim on the Dreambox website: