Q&A with Niam Shah ’21, Middle School Math Circle Teaching Assistant

Jared Scott Tesler
Since arriving at The Shipley School as a sophomore, Niam Shah ’21, a Math Peer Tutor and member of the Technology Student Association and DECA, has earned numerous regional and national awards, started two businesses, and worked as an intern at a tech startup. Most recently, he served as a Teaching Assistant for Shipley’s Middle School Math Circle, a five-week summer enrichment program led by Josh Berberian, Upper School mathematics teacher and Coordinator of Educational Research.

Q: How did you get involved with the Middle School Math Circle?

I’ve worked with Mr. Berberian in the classroom for a couple of years now, and last year, I signed up to volunteer as a Math Peer Tutor. When Mr. Berberian decided to offer the summer program to students, he reached out to me, since I’d had some prior experience with him and in that area of teaching.

Q: What is the focus of the Middle School Math Circle?

It’s designed for middle schoolers who want to learn more about math through pathways not typically explored in the classroom. We experiment with different, often more abstract, ways of approaching problems.

Q: What was some of the material that you covered?

We looked at different ways of approaching problems, with logic and reason. We used Knights and Liars, where the knights always tell the truth and the liars always lie. From just a couple of statements, students had to determine the knight and the liar. We also worked with combinatorics. For example, if you have two teacups and three types of tea, how many total combinations can you make?

Q: What was it like being on the opposite side of the classroom? What did you learn?

I’ve had a little bit of experience at home, because I have a younger sister, but for the most part, it was new to me. I had to understand not only the material, but also how others learn and what they know. I had to figure out how to frame problems, say things in different ways, and lead students to answers.

I learned about the many different types of learners there are. I learned how to work with each student by showing them how to use their preferred method to solve the same problems.

Q: What insight into the work of your teachers did you gain as a result of this experience?

I didn’t realize how hard it is to juggle so many different students, their capacity for learning, and their way of learning. I only worked with three to six students per class—I can’t imagine a classroom of 15!

Q: What is it about math that appeals to you?

I think the reason I like math is because there are some set rules that’ve been put into place, but then when you get a problem, it’s your job to figure out what you can use to get the answer. You can take the basis of knowledge that you have and then apply it in so many different ways.

Q: Have you had any standout experiences in math at Shipley?

Last year, I took multivariable calculus, which was a class of only five students. Since it was such a small group, we were able to collaborate and talk to each other to work through the problems ourselves. I really liked that.

Q: Have you taken any Upper School STEAM courses?

I’ve taken design thinking and engineering. I thought design thinking was a great introduction to engineering, because we got a chance to create a lot of things without the pressure of an engineering grade. Engineering was one of my favorite classes, because we took a good look at not only the basics of engineering but also everything else that goes along with engineering—the presentation, the writing of an engineering report, and the documentation.

Q: What do you see yourself studying in college?
Right now, I’m very interested in the management side of business, but I think I want to couple that with something more hands-on, like maybe engineering or law.
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.