Q&A: Mr. Isaac Sofy

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After selecting a teacher to interview, students may send any questions they may have for the teacher to my email ([email protected]) and all appropriate questions will be asked. For this Q&A, I chose to interview Mr. Isaac Sofy, former head of the math department and long-time AP Calculus and Statistics teacher at Heritage. His students, both past and present, were very eager to submit questions. To find out more about Mr. Sofy through this Q&A, read on.

Mr. Sofy teaches his third hour AB Calculus class while wearing a minion onesie for superhero day during the 2018 homecoming week. (Photo/Joanne Haner)

Q: Why do you give a final after the AP exam?

A: For AP Calc, there were a total of three students out of 100 that were seniors at the final. It’s more for the juniors that end up moving on the following year to Calc BC. For Calc BC, you need to have a very strong foundation, and this is a way for us to make sure that they have that foundation, because the AP scores won’t come out until July but we have to make the recommendations way before that. At least this way, for students that are on the cusp of whether or not they qualify to go into BC, this gives the teachers of the class a final metric to be able to make that decision. So that’s why the juniors take it. For seniors, it’s to hold them accountable in their second semester.

Q: Why did half of the testing quizzes have a curve?

A: Essentially, the idea behind giving a curve is that when you’re writing an assessment, you have an expectation for how well students are going to perform. Then you give the assessment and you go over it. You see what the common mistakes students made: were they careless errors or were they true conceptual errors? In other words, they didn’t understand the objective or demonstrate mastery of it. This idea behind administering a curve is to give them, for one, the benefit of the doubt that they understood the material but you don’t want to hold them to the exact rigor of what we hold them to. If the student demonstrated mastery, then they’re going to earn the A; if they had huge weaknesses in how well they understood the material, then their grade represented that even with the curve. The understanding behind the material is setting up the problem, then everything else just becomes algebra, and since the algebra is the majority of the work, you don’t want the majority of the grade to be based on the algebra, you want the majority of the grading based on the calculus. So the curving always helps to correct that.

Q: Why’s your class so difficult when the AP exam is so much easier in comparison?

A: My trainer always says, “You’re gonna hate me now, but you’re gonna love me later.” The rationale behind that is you want to present the students with a certain level of rigor, so that when they get to the actual AP exam, they feel comfortable. I fully feel like the opposite is worse. If I gave you easy assessments all year long, and then you get to the AP exam, and you’re like, “Oh my god, it’s the hardest thing ever.” When my kids came out and said, “Mr. Sofy, that was the easiest thing ever” – at that point, I don’t know whether to tell them sorry for the whole year, or you’re welcome for the whole year. In my mind, I always tell them, you’re welcome, because the whole idea is to prepare them for the exam, and if I’ve achieved that, then I’ve done my job.

Q: What is the most ridiculous thing you’ve seen a student do?

A: One year, students put post-its all over my car. Each post-it had a different stats vocabulary word. It was the cutest thing ever; I have so many pictures of that. My entire car was covered in them, color-coded. They put like a heart on my hood. Their senior prank was to do that to my car. That would probably be the most extra thing. For something else, I had a student who was a senior a few years ago, who for the AP stats exam, answered all the questions correctly but put song lyrics with the answers of each, which in her, her rationale was to kind of give the reader a form of entertainment. And what I told her was, “Oh my god, are you kidding, they have to read everything you write! They have thousands of tests to grade!” That would be the most crazy thing I’ve probably seen.

(Photo submitted by Mr. Isaac Sofy)

Q: What do I do when the P-value is less than the alpha?

A: That’s not a question. That’s a stats question. You reject your null hypothesis. I know what he [Kevin Yeung] wants me to say. Reject your null hypothesis. *while laughing* 

Q: What’s your favorite statistics chapter?

A: Probably confidence intervals. Confidence Intervals is the student’s first attempt at taking data from a sample and trying to figure out what the whole population is. So if I want to know, for example, what proportion of students want to go see Endgame, I can take a small sample, and if I find 60% of my sample saw that movie, I can’t claim now that at Heritage 60% of students saw it. One sample is not necessarily representative of the whole school. So for the first time, they see that, it’s cool, because for them, it’s the idea of working with, you know, small data and applying it to the theme at large and the best part about it is that I show them real world data when we’re doing this. So they get to see companies like Amazon and Facebook and Microsoft, and so on, end up making decisions on a wide scale based on small sample groups.

Q: “How does one salsa, please spill?” “When and where did you learn your sick moves?” “How and when did you learn to dance?”

A: You don’t want to spill salsa because it’s tomato-based, it’s gonna make a huge mess. So you definitely don’t want to do that. You want to be very careful when handling the salsa. Just kidding; I’ve been dancing for 13 years. Being a math person, you kind of go in there hoping that you’re going to be able to count correctly as far as the eight counts are concerned, you use your feet in a way that’s meant to be used. And then the other part of it that’s nerve racking is the fact that you’re dancing with other people that are kind of trusting you like in the sense that you know you’re doing that type of thing. But when I first started taking classes I took classes three times a week, and then I started social dancing and there’s a lot that goes into it but it’s no different than any other class. You start off not knowing anything and then you establish a strong foundation and then you build from there. Once you learn the basic steps, then you start learning term patterns. You start learning different combinations of term patterns and putting them together in different ways. And for a spectator watching salsa dancing they see it as like wow, everything is so unique. But once you start taking classes like, “That’s a cross-body lead,” and, “I know exactly what that term pattern is, I’ve seen that in class before.” But as far as the actual doing of it was just practice, no different than math.

Q: Do you have a favorite FRAPPY?

A: Yes, I do. But first, FRAPPY stands for Free Response AP Problem Yay. So my favorite fear response problem is the potato problem of 2017 on the calculus test. That is definitely my favorite FRAPPY because the memes that went along with it after the exam in 2017, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Q: When and why did you learn Spanish?

A: My father lives in Miami Lakes, which is adjacent to Hialeah. If you want to order anything in Hialeah, you need to be able to do it in Spanish because that tends to be the number one language there. But no, the idea behind it is most Florida schools want to be able to see at least two years from foreign language to qualify for Bright Futures, so I started taking Spanish when I was in middle school. I continued through Spanish when I went through high school and went through the requirements that were needed. And then I really didn’t feel like I was learning and well, because it’s one thing to take a language and a class, it’s a whole other thing to be out in a city and speaking that language. I really started learning Spanish well, and when I was out in Hialeah, so that’s where I would have to do anything from ordering things or communicating as a salesperson for my dad’s business in Hialeah. As a salesperson, I had to be able to communicate in Spanish because essentially all the customers there spoke one of three languages: English, Creole or Spanish. Spanish was the one that was predominantly spoken as naturally of a very large Spanish-speaking population. I started getting better and better at it to the point where I would say the languages that I know well, in order from most fluent, would be Mathematics, followed by English, followed by Spanish, followed by Hebrew.

Q: How often do you do photography?

A: Not as often as I would like. I invested a lot in gear. Going back eight years ago, I was out two or three times a week just doing photo shoots. I started reading books and watching videos, and then started investing in gear and then started going out and shooting and then I would go back and read some more. Although the saying always goes you learn the best when you make your own mistakes, I’m a strong proponent of, “Let me learn from the mistakes of others.” From there, I just just kept doing it for fun. Then I started doing weddings and birthday parties and started generating income from it, which was a lot of fun. And then I went to Israel three years ago, and I came back and I probably do it now maybe once a week if I’m lucky.

Q: How many camera lenses do you have?

A: Oh, yikes. I’m just thinking there are seven of them.

Q: What’s your favorite and least favorite thing about teaching at American Heritage and why?

A: My favorite thing about teaching at Heritage is the types of students that we attract here. Being as passionate as they are about the subject, being able to take those students and help them to achieve the next level of understanding and mastery of the content. These are kids that are really engaged; they want to be here, they want to learn, they want to take advantage of all the resources they have. My least favorite thing about being an American heritage is that Dean Nolle doesn’t know how to salsa dance. There’s like a tear in my eye because Dean Nolle doesn’t take advantage of salsa dancing. That’s gonna be my final answer.

Q: Who are you going to miss most?

A: I’m gonna have to say that there isn’t one student. I take a Marie Kondo approach. She’s known for her way of organizing things. She always asks that before you discard something, you ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” And if it sparks joy, then it’s something you keep. Of course, I’m oversimplifying something that’s a little bit more complex, but more or less my take-away. Every one of my students here sparks joy, because each one of them brings something different to the table. There’s never a dull moment. Every student is unique in their own way. The hardest part is to choose the outstanding student awards, because there’s so many of them. The ones that take AP calc and AP stats are the most motivated, so it’s a pleasure being able to work with them, and being a part of their journey as they grow.

Kristen is a Cuban American senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Patriot Post, President of Student Government and co-founder of the non-profit Friends for Fosters. Kristen loves keeping up with politics, watching Netflix, reading and sleeping in. She considers herself a nerd due to her massive video game and comic collection.