Math Department Chair Chris Luzniak publishes first book, ‘Up for Debate!’


Photo credit: Jessica Jimenez

Mr.Luz holds his book “Up for Debate!” outside his classroom. The book was published October 2019.

Math Department Chair Chris Luzniak published “Up for Debate!”, a book outlining how to incorporate aspects of speech and debate into math lessons, in late October 2019. Luz began to first work on his book around November 2017 and aimed to “engage” and “empower” students to actively participate in math class.

The idea for Luzniak’s book came when he taught in New York City before coming to Archer.

“I was a math teacher and a speech and debate coach, and I saw how excited students got about speech and debate,” he said. “I wanted to bring some of that excitement into my math class.”

Before publishing his book, he spoke at many conferences and shared his debate-centered techniques for teaching math. When a publisher approached him and asked if he would be willing to work on a book, he declined the offer because he didn’t think he could write a book. Eventually, Luzniak decided to give it a try. He took the offer and began the process of writing and sharing his ideas with others.

Luzniak described his favorite part of the process as having a “really great” editor who “gave [him] tons of feedback,” which helped him improve his drafts each time. Luzniak believes the difficult part for him was being able to put his “discussions into writing and explain how to do it.”

“I really care about math classes across the country, across the globe. I want everyone to have fun with math,” Luzniak said. “I want to bring real-world ideas in the math classroom, so math is not just like, ‘Solve this worksheet’ but like, ‘Let’s talk about climate change or…issues of gender inequality or something else’ — and there’s math in those issues that I want to bring out.”

Luzniak wanted to find ways to have his students expand on their learning, dive deeper and defend their responses. This would ensure his students debate their answers and prove they were correct.

“I tried to think of ways to do some debate in math and what that would it look like, ’cause everyone thinks that math just has an answer, right? Like two plus two equals four. Well, how do you debate that?” Luzniak said. “So I started thinking about ways and I got ideas from other teachers as well, started putting them all together and started trying things a little bit …until I started having lots of activities and things that involved debate and discussion in math class.”

As he began implementing certain techniques and routines in his math class, Luzniak took note of what worked and what didn’t. He would receive feedback from his students on how they felt about the different routines and techniques used.

“As a math teacher, I’d never done a debate in math class, so I just tried something out and then I asked the students how they felt about it afterward,” Luzniak said. “I noticed that over the course of a year, when I did even just a couple small debate things, that students were talking more and explaining more in math class — something that I really wanted to have happen.”

Math Department Chair and “Up for Debate!” author Chris Luzniak guides his students in this matching activity. Students participate by sharing their response and explaining their answer.

Middle School Director Jemma Kennedy supported Luzniak throughout the process of writing his book. Although Kennedy was not an editor, she was able to give him feedback on his cover and a few introductory pages.

“It was just great for me to be able to be a sounding board for him and to just encourage him when he was about to put out a new draft and to get feedback,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy enjoyed supporting Luzniak because she was able to see his ideas come to life. She believes his ideas will help other teachers engage their own students in their math classes.

“[Luzniak] is onto something really important in teaching students, specifically girls, how to be confident and find their voices in math class through debate,” Kennedy said.

She believes Luzniak is courageous for sharing his ideas, and she is glad she was able to support to him throughout this process.

“What I really learned from him was how to be courageous about putting your own thoughts out there because sometimes you’re not sure or people are not sure that their thoughts and ideas will be valued by other people,” Kennedy said. “So just being there to encourage him to do it and to help him recognize that he had something important to say was a privilege for me.”

Luzniak not only wants to make math class enjoyable, but he also wants to connect math to real-world issues in order to help engage students.

“In our current world, nobody listens to each other and everyone on TV is yelling at each other,” Luzniak said. “I want to help the next generation be good listeners and good speakers who can make an argument and defend it and also respond to people. So if I can do my part in math class, I want to help with that.”