CCA Mathematician - an Inspiring Leader and Teacher
Faculty Feature: Mike Grilli, Math Teacher, Cape Cod Academy
When the senior class decides to dedicate their yearbook to a man who’s only been teaching at the school for two years, it has to mean something. “Whether you want to delve further into your understanding of derivatives,” say the kids, “or you have a bad day and need a shoulder to cry on, Mr. Grilli is your guy.”
Here is one student's take: "Mr. Grilli is one of the most gifted and kindest people I know. He has taught me that even the smartest people can struggle to learn things, but that doesn’t make them any less smart. He has also always been there to lend a helping hand when I am struggling in a separate endeavor from math, and he has always provided good and trustworthy counsel whenever necessary. He is one of the best men I’ve ever met."
Mike Grilli did his undergraduate work at Providence College and earned his masters at Montana. What he does at CCA is mind-bending. You will need to take a deep breath. Mr. Grilli teaches Pre-calculus, Honors Calculus, Honors Algebra 2, A.P. Calculus (the equivalent of Calculus 2 in college), Advanced Algebra 1, and Introduction to Statistics. In addition, Mike offers seminars in “Math Beyond Calculus”, “Optimization Methods”, and “Introduction to Real Analysis”.
"I do math and appreciate it," says Grilli. "So many people flinch at the mere mention of mathematics, so infecting my students with a love of it all is job one. Math does not need to be applied to be appreciated or useful. It is a beautiful and gigantic subject that can and should be done for its own sake."
Love of subject is one of the triad that makes for great teaching. "I have learned enough math to be humbled by the subject itself," Grilli says. "It's difficult for everyone but for different reasons. This is something I share and embrace with my students: I have been in their situation before, struggling through a concept, and I want to help them get past that. I've had my ass kicked by aspects of my discipline."
Mike sounds like a pretty cerebral guy, but there is more. If his students respect his expertise, they love him for his heart, for the way he sees them and their place in the world. “The kids here are devoted to their education,” he says. “But they understand that they are part of a larger whole. I hadn’t met kids like this before.”
“He makes the best chocolate chip muffins on earth,” the kids say. “He’s got an old soul; sometimes he makes jokes we don’t get, and it’s hilarious. One of the best things about Mr. Grilli is how fun and easy it is to talk with him."
Ask him what he sees as the greatest strengths of Cape Cod Academy, and he will tell you, “It’s the community here… the seamless and natural interactions… organic, not forced, that benefit everyone. It’s in their DNA. We can use our size as a resource.”
Where would he like to see CCA go? "I'd like every graduate of CCA to have experienced calculus, not necessarily because they will use it in their major or profession, but because it gives them a tiny glimpse into what mathematics actually is as a subject,” Grilli says. “Through calculus, students learn that math tools are invented, that it's exciting, and that it's alive. Moreover, the logic and problem-solving skills that are necessary to learn math at that level can be used anywhere -- even in non-STEM fields. Math, to me, is the purest form of problem-solving practice, and because everyone must solve a problem at some point in their lives, everyone should strive to learn math at a high level to sharpen their problem-solving tools."
Is there a secret to teaching? “Be unapologetically enthusiastic about your subject,” says Grilli. “Kids have to see the passion in someone before they can find their own.”