Math Teacher Makes "Millionaire"

Patrick Friel’s know-how is well-known to Windward students, and on Jan. 4 he put those same smarts to work before a national audience. Appearing as a contestant on the popular quiz show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” Patrick answered questions ranging from the identification of scaly, burrowing creatures to the evolution of the Portuguese alphabet. Following his successful appearance, in which he walked away with $100,000, Patrick had this to say about his experience.

What did your students think of your “Millionaire” appearance?
Most of them were pretty excited to watch it. They aren't used to seeing their teachers in another context. They also might have been surprised to see that I knew a lot of things besides math.

How has your role as an educator enhanced your trivia knowledge?
By spending so much time around teenagers, I've become aware of some aspects of popular culture that I probably wouldn't have encountered otherwise.

Considering your mathematics background, was your show strategy informed more by risk assessment and probability, or did gut instinct play a role?
No matter how much math you know, gut instinct and one's tolerance for risk are always involved. There are situations in the show in which taking a random guess has a better expected value than walking away with the money you already have. I am, however, not much of a gambler, so it would have been hard for me to take that kind of risk.

When discussing the show, you mentioned that the producers coached you on how you presented your information. Did that inform your teaching methods?
Contestants on the show are encouraged to talk through the thought process instead of giving an answer right away. This makes the show more interesting for the viewer, and it makes it less likely for the contestant to make a silly error. It's really not that different from solving a math problem. A student might have a sense of the answer right away, but she should still show her work. Not only does showing work help the teacher understand the student's thought process, but it also makes it less likely for the student to produce an incorrect response.

What advice would you give students looking to try their hand at quiz games?
Be curious, be humble, and don't take it too seriously. Quiz games can be a great way to show off what you know, but no matter how good you are, there's someone even better. A good quiz or trivia activity gives you a chance to show off, but it should also provide an opportunity to learn something new.
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Windward School is a 7-12, co-educational, independent day school in Los Angeles, California.