## Math specialist Nick Johnson uses the concept of exploding dots to revolutionize math education

Nick Johnson, a math specialist in the College of General Studies’ First Year Bridge program, is making waves in the field of math education with his innovative approach using the concept of “exploding dots.” Once a student who had little interest in math, Johnson now uses this visual method to help students understand and enjoy mathematics. Exploding dots, a concept championed by mathematicians James Tanton and Sunil Singh, uses boxes and dots to illustrate mathematical concepts, particularly place value. Johnson’s journey from a math skeptic to an instructor has given him a unique perspective on reaching students and instilling confidence in their mathematical abilities.

Exploding Dots: A Revolutionary Teaching Method

Exploding dots is a visual approach to teaching math that uses boxes and dots to demonstrate how mathematical concepts, such as place value, work. Students place a dot in a box, and when they add another dot representing a certain number, the dots “explode” and move into a box to the left, representing a different grouping. Sound effects add a playful and engaging element to the learning experience. This method not only makes math approachable but also enjoyable for students.

Applying Exploding Dots to Real-Life Examples

Exploding dots can be applied to various mathematical concepts and levels of difficulty. For example, in a simple scenario involving counting coins, students can use exploding dots to understand how different denominations add up. If a student has 12 dimes and 12 pennies, the pennies can be represented as dots in the far-right box. When the pennies “explode” into the next box on the left, they form another dime, leaving two pennies in the first box. This process continues until the total value is determined. Exploding dots can also be used with different number bases, such as base 2, which is essential for understanding computer programming.

From Tutoring to Teaching: Johnson’s Journey

After completing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics education, Johnson initially considered becoming a high school teacher. However, he discovered a passion for tutoring and decided to pursue a master’s degree in mathematics at UWM. During this time, he delved deeper into the concept of exploding dots and even incorporated it into his thesis. Johnson’s dedication to understanding and applying exploding dots has led him to become a math specialist in the College of General Studies’ First Year Bridge program.

Empowering Students and Overcoming Challenges

Johnson’s main goal is to help students transition from noncredit math courses to credit courses and beyond with a solid understanding of mathematical concepts. He understands the challenges faced by students who have had negative experiences or find math boring. To overcome these obstacles, Johnson focuses on creating an enjoyable learning environment and instilling a belief in every student that they can succeed in math. By making math approachable and enjoyable, Johnson aims to dispel the notion that math is an insurmountable struggle.

### Conclusion:

Nick Johnson’s innovative use of exploding dots has revolutionized math education, making it more accessible and enjoyable for students. By using visual representations and engaging techniques, Johnson helps students understand complex mathematical concepts and builds their confidence in their abilities. Through his dedication and passion for teaching, Johnson is transforming the way students perceive and engage with math, ultimately paving the way for a new generation of math enthusiasts.

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