Rachel Braun-Math

A true love for Mathematics, embroidery, and chocolate sparked Hamodiya’s interest to talk with new math teacher, Ms. Rachel Braun.

Hamodiya: Where did you used to work before coming to the Berman upper school?

Ms. Braun: I started my career in statistical consulting, which I still do on an occasional basis. Next, I taught at Edmund Burke School, in a variety of courses: AP Statistics, Algebra 2, Geometry, Trig, AP Calculus, and Epidemiology. Most recently, I treated myself to a sabbatical year to develop more embroidery canvases (I design Judaic embroidery) and to write a book about my embroidery work, titled Embroidery and Sacred Text, which will be published this fall/winter.


H: What do you look forward to the most out of being in the Berman Upper School?

MB:When I visited the school last winter, I was struck by the warm, collegial atmosphere among the students and by the sense of kindness permeating the classroom. I was impressed with the community’s high standard for academic achievement and by its rigorous engagement with intellectual life. Plus — I’ll be teaching two of my favorite subjects – Statistics and Calculus!


H: What is one surprising thing all students should know about you?

MB: I am in the Guinness Book of World Records. I hold the record for the largest graph paper collection in the world – over 750 distinct sheets. I’ve collected papers with a variety of grids: square (‘regular’ graph paper), logarithmic, semilogarithmic, isometric, hyperbolic, orthographic, trilinear, hygrothermic, impedance, plat, polar, probability plot, and Smith chart grids, from all the major graph paper manufacturers. Most of my paper is ‘vintage’ and has a beautiful, high rag-content, with a silky drape. Graph paper is a medium for perceiving quantitative relationships in the context of their natural milieu. On a square-grid sheet, an exponential curve goes haywire, but on semilogarithmic paper, it settles down to a line. On normal probability plot paper, the ‘bell curve’ straightens out its occasionally maligned outliers. Beyond the beauty of the grid and of the paper texture, those transformations are why I find graph paper enchanting. We can influence our perception of quantitative information by considering the flow between milieu (grid variety) and outcome (the shape of the plotted curve). Kinda sorta like life, right? as all good mathematics is.


H: How did you come to love your subject?

MB: Well, first of all, math is rigorous. It makes sense. There are rules. The rules

respect logic, sequence, and balance. Next, we humans are physically profoundly mathematical. If you play a sport and are processing information with your peripheral vision, the ratio of your cones and rods is critical to your success. And if I say “I love trigonometry with all my heart” I do mean that, even literally. I refer you to an EKG printout to inspect the graph, a Fourier series with trigonometric components. And calculus is all about modelling change, lots of fun. You can figure out the movement along a roller coaster and don’t even throw up at the end. So with mathematics, you can experience the world in a much tidier way – no

My love of statistics comes from a different place. Mathematics is about precision and truth. Statistics is messy, uncertain, and tentative. So statistics is experientially much more realistic. In statistical practice, you set an ‘alpha’ level, a maximum amount of uncertainty you want to attach to a procedure or decision, and go about your work accordingly. Often, that’s just 5%. Now I’ve been at teaching and parenting for decades (I have four grown children), and oh my!…if only I could aspire to a 95% success rate with all my methods and decisions!


H: What do you like to eat/cook?

MB: I like to eat chocolate and I like to eat ice cream. If you can imagine a Venn Diagram with circles for chocolate, C, and for ice cream, I, then C∩I would be the intersecting space that maximizes my utility function for eating.