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Ogden Math Teacher Builds Critical Thinkers with Songs, Zombies

 A still from one of math teacher Dan Stone's supplemental YouTube videos.
A still from one of math teacher Dan Stone's supplemental YouTube videos.
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WEST TOWN — Dan Stone considers himself a realist.

"I know that mathematics is important to those future [science, technology, engineering and math] career people, but I also want to make it important and relevant for those that are not going into that," said Stone, a math teacher at Ogden International School's west campus, which houses grades nine through 12.  

"With my geometry class, I try to stress the important of thinking logically. Not just in mathematics, but also in whatever your chosen vocation may be, wherever you find yourself in life.

"No one is going to jump you on the street and demand you find the area of a lawn, but they might ask you in your job for a course of action. How do you logically go about doing that?"

That mentality, combined with 33-year-old Stone's quirky background, results in an interesting approach to math homework.

To learn the principles behind proofs, Stone, assigns a "justification project" that allows his students to prove an argument about anything — social issues, historical events — and extrapolate the framework of a reasoned argument to apply it to numbers.

He posts supplemental videos on YouTube to reinforce concepts for his students where he admits he "isn't afraid to get a little goofy."

Earlier this year, Stone's students tackled a college-level mathematics paper. About zombies.

"I found a mathematical paper that's available in a Canadian medical journal about what would a zombie attack look like," he said. "It's graphs of everything, so the kids were able to go through the paper and come up with an interpretation of what that would look like."

The zombie schtick might not work with every class, but Stone prides himself on his ability to gauge his audience. He says it satisfies the acting bug he caught growing up in suburban Lansing.

A history buff, self-proclaimed "theater kid" and award-winning speech team competitor in high school, Stone initially enrolled at the University of Illinois to study computer engineering and theater.

A study abroad trip to Moscow reawakened his passion for history, and he changed majors. After spending his junior year in Japan, he became enamored with the country, and returned to Chicago to study the language, politics and culture.

Stone never thought he'd be a teacher, but when an opportunity to teach English opened up in Saitama, near Tokyo, Stone took it.

Soon, he'd caught the teaching bug, and returned to Chicago, and landed at Ogden.

He still flexes those other muscles, leading a Japanese club at the school and incorporating history and culture into his math lessons when he can. 

As for performing, Stone says his classroom feels like a stage.

"Every day, I've got my audience," he said. "You really have to know your audience, and I think I understand these kids."