Academic Programs

From postulates to picture walks, Mayfield’s Geometry “coach” has your back

When last year’s yearbook honoree, Kenny Fisher, was announced in an assembly everyone broke into applause and cheers. He’s a triple threat: in the arts, athletics, and in academics. Actors counted him a fellow performer after his memorable role in a Mayfield production of “Into the Woods” a few years back; athletes felt lucky to have had him as their coach in track and field or basketball; those who knew him from their algebra or geometry classes understood his unmistakable talents as a skilled math teacher, too. There didn’t seem to be a single student in the room on whom he hadn’t left a positive impression.
That breadth of experience and characteristic Holy Child dedication was on full display on a recent December morning. The night before, Coach Fisher had driven the Varsity basketball team to a game more than an hour away, and, after a difficult loss, he offered words of reassurance and perseverance until they arrived back on campus at 9:30 p.m. The next morning was bracingingly cold for his 7:50 a.m. Geometry class and, per COVID regulations, the doors were wide open. Taking attendance, he checked in with every single student. Were they doing OK? Warm enough? Did they sleep well? He doesn’t miss a beat between his friendliness and his professionalism. Today, he tells the class, they will be learning about how to prove parallel lines. 

“TAs to the board,” Mr. Fisher instructs, and two students leap up and get in front of the class. They ask their fellow classmates if they had any questions about the homework, and then get to diagramming. Mr. Fisher always starts his classes this way—a pair of students take over the first 10 minutes of class, and the student Teaching Assistants (TAs) cycle out every week. It’s a practice Mr. Fisher has been using for years now. It gives the students some amount of agency with the subject material, without making any single student struggle by themselves. When today’s TAs have finished their work at the board, Mr. Fisher asks the class to give them a hand.

Encouragement seems to be the prevailing undercurrent in the way Mr. Fisher engages with his students. “Mr. Fisher always explains the topics in a way that everyone can understand,” says Jade Telles ’25. And he never leaves any question unanswered, adds Jade, who says that Mr. Fisher “goes into deeper explanations for better understanding.”

Geometry is famously a challenging topic for some, and even students who have enjoyed algebra sometimes struggle with this new subject. It requires a different set of skills, as students become introduced to postulates and theorems for the first time, understanding logic and spatial relationships in entirely new ways. Does Mr. Fisher think that students knowing him as a coach first helps make this rigorous subject material a little more approachable for them?  “I think so,” he says. “Definitely.” 

After the TAs returned to their seats, Mr. Fisher says, “10 minutes for picture walks,” which he uses to boost learning. A “picture walk” is essentially a pedagogical term for skimming—before the lecture part of the class begins, students survey the key concepts of the upcoming chapter by scanning the major headings and main images. Mr. Fisher says he also asks his students to draw a picture during this priming time so “that can solidify it in their brains a little.” And this practice seems to work well for students.

“I love picture walks because it allows me to get a better understanding of what I'll learn in the next section,” Maddie Domingo ’24 explains. “This way, I get a good feeling of the material and avoid any surprises of not knowing what to do.”

Another way Mr. Fisher helps students gain confidence and competence in the subject is by asking them to use their own language, and their own definitions, alongside the material in the book. He has a diagram on the board, with two parallel lines, cut by a transversal, and the class has been exploring all of the special relationships between those angles before them. At this point, Mr. Fisher asks the class to write “Postulate 3.1,” word for word from the book. “Now you have that written out,” he says, “come up with the converse on your own.” He reminds the class “it's okay to be wrong,” because he isn’t expecting precision, but overall understanding.

Once students put their best efforts into words, Mr. Fisher reviews the submissions, then asks the class: “Did we get close?” Then he answers his own question with enthusiasm: “Yeah, you did!”

This class doesn’t have many projects or presentations on the syllabus. Grades are based on quizzes, tests and class participation. Students approach the subject differently, have different points of entry and experience different moments of revelation. This can be in TA presentations or in group work on the board. And Sophia Georgino ’25 really enjoys this group work, calling it sometimes the “most interesting” thing they do in class. “I like to write out the problems on the board and try to solve them,” says Sophia. “I get to work with my classmates is fun.”

As a student who was more interested in sports during high school, Mr. Fisher admits that geometry didn’t come naturally to him at first—and this initial reluctance makes it easy for him to understand when his students struggle with concepts. “My goal is to get 'em to like it,” Mr. Fisher says with a laugh. “Even if they hated it before!” 

Knowing that not every student may come to cultivate a lifelong appreciation for geometry or pursue it at the university level, what does success look like for Mr. Fisher? “When students are getting better,” they’re succeeding, he says—and he brings passion and ambition to helping his students improve. A consummate coach, Mr. Fisher knows that practice can make all the difference in the world. “If they're working at it, they will get better,” he says. 
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Established in 1931, Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, CA is a Catholic, independent, college preparatory school for young women grades 9-12. Noted for its rigorous academic program, which includes 28 Advanced Placement and Honors courses, Mayfield’s curriculum is underscored by a philosophy of educating the “whole child,” which also encourages commitment to and excellence in the arts, athletics, community service and spiritual growth. The nurturing environment at Mayfield Senior School allows each student to flourish in an atmosphere of personal attention.