Bernice German, Author and Creator of the Math Whisperer Approach

bernice1Bernice German has a passion for math, but it wasn’t always that way. In high school she stopped taking math at the earliest possible moment since it felt more like a procedural chore that anything else. But in college her strong desire to be a scientist forced her back into a mathematics classroom. She started with the most basic elementary math course offered and after much consternation eked out a B, still unhappy with the prospect of more math.

But the ideas of physics changed all that. It was in the context of physics that math became real to her. Math, she discovered, let you do things you never thought you could. It became a new language to her, one full of thoughts and ideas and concepts. In the process of obtaining her graduate degree in physics, Bernice went from someone who viewed math as a necessary evil to an impassioned advocate.

During Bernice’s early professional career in the sciences she couldn’t help but notice the regular stream of articles suggesting that American students were falling woefully short on mathematics achievement. As someone who revered math this bothered her. A somewhat casual exploration in her spare time led her to a simple conclusion: the infrastructure around math education had come to be focused almost entirely on the procedural components of math, tying teachers hands when it came to teaching the conceptual side. It was that conceptual side of math that turned Bernice from a hater of her math classes to someone who would later devour them. In the meantime teachers were being required to work with a curriculum and materials that focused elsewhere.

In 1989 Bernice changed careers, embarking on a new quest to become a math educator. She brought to that new career her own experiences and so when she began to teach she focused heavily on the concepts that make up the base for all mathematics. The results from the students she worked with were startling, with many who had been one or two grade levels behind finding themselves catching up to their peers within a school year. What Bernice did was to find which concepts a student might be missing, focus on lessons that would instill that concept in the student, and math that just months before had been difficult if not impossible became easy.

Bernice and several scholars and researchers she worked with discovered that students who struggle with math are missing one or more of twenty basic mathematical concepts, such as the ability to conceptualize a negative number, or the basic concepts behind the addition of fractions. She found a way to identify which of the concepts a student was missing as well an effective way to help each student learn the concept. Each time she employed her methodology it produced a remarkably consistent result: the achievement gains by her students, especially those who struggled with math, were remarkable.

Others began to use her approach, which she dubbed  “Math Whisperer.” This led Bernice to think about how best to share her work. She combined her methodology for determining which concepts a student was missing into a simple diagnostic tool and assembled the lessons she used to teach the missing concepts into sixteen lesson sets, allowing the Math Whisperer Approach to be something that any teacher can now use.

Bernice continues to live and work in the Boulder, Colorado area where her ideas for how to create the Math Whisperer Approach first developed. She can always be reached at bernice@mathwhisperer.com.