Friday, September 25, 2020

A New Normal


Before the fall semester began, I was very apprehensive about how it would go. I was worried about contracting COVID-19 and how that would affect my family. I was dreading wearing a mask, having to use a microphone to teach, and having a video camera in the room. I figured that we would be online within 3 weeks of starting the semester so why bother starting in person.

Today is the end of 5.5 weeks, and my classes are still meeting in person. Despite all of my fears, the semester is going well. I love being back in the classroom—there is nothing better than engaging with students in person. My students are learning a lot and are working hard, both at school and at staying safe by wearing a mask.

No, this semester is not the same as last fall because students aren’t studying in the building, hanging out in the Math Education Library, and faculty’s office doors are shut. But it is wonderful to be back on campus, to see my students in person, and to be in the classroom teaching. I have gotten used to the classroom technology and it seems to be working well for my students.

As the number of COVID cases rises dramatically in my state, I still feel safe going to work. More importantly, I look forward to going to work to see my students and to help them learn more mathematics. Fall 2020 is definitely a unique semester, but it has been a great one so far.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Silent No More

I have watched the events of the last week unfold and I have been silent; as a white privileged female what can I possibly say? I will never understand what BIPOC endure on a daily basis. However, I am very empathetic and after today’s actions, I can no longer be silent.

I am a teacher educator so my job is to prepare math teachers for their future classrooms. So I MUST speak up to set an example for my students. We all need to stand up for what is right, which is something that I have always done, even when it wasn’t popular. You can ask some of my siblings about that.

And while we are supporting #BlackLivesMatter, COVID-19 is killing thousands of Americans every day. In fact, these two things are tied together because COVID-19 affects BIPOC more than white citizens. Both the pandemic and the blatant racism have been fueled by an incompetent leader. The fact that he went into a bunker and shut the lights off at the White House tells us that he is not the leader that we need right now. In fact, he makes things worse every day and it needs to stop. I am pleading with all of you to contact your members of Congress and ask them to use the 25th Amendment.

Even though the calendar says that it is 2020, I feel like our country has regressed 50 to 60 years. In my opinion, this regression has been caused by our current president. He has gotten away with being racist so some of our citizens think that this behavior is okay. It is NOT okay. Everyone in our country deserves to be treated fairly and justly.

I fear for the future of our country, for my BIPOC family and friends. We cannot stand by and let our country be ruined—we must stand up peacefully and take back America.

Friday, March 27, 2020

After Week 1 of Teaching Online

So my students and I have survived the first week of online classes. Some takeaways from this week are:
  • Zoom is a great platform for synchronous classes and is easy for class discussions if you have less than 15 students.
  • The breakout rooms feature on Zoom is great, but pre-assigning students to rooms hasn’t worked well for me yet. Some students ended up in the correct room, but I had to manually place most of the students in the correct room. It is still a great way for them to have small group discussion.
  • Time seems to go faster than expected. In my 2-hour class on Tuesday, I intended to have discussion for the first hour and then give them an assignment for the second hour. We ended up talking the entire time. I definitely need to change that this coming week as many of my students have class from 8 to 12:15 that day and all classes were synchronous!
  • In History of Math, I wanted to use COVID-19 as part of our conversation so we did a problem on Monday, where I asked them if every person in South Dakota could have a circle of radius 2 meters around them without the circles overlapping. And, we do have enough room for that—even extra to invite some friends.
  • Then I asked the History of Math students to post on the Discussion Board their thoughts on what impact they believe Covid-19 will have on the History of Mathematics. It was an interesting discussion and I appreciated reading their perspectives.
  • In our Assessment course, we had our annual Homework Debate, where we assign students to be either Pro Homework or Con Homework. Then they have to argue their side. They did a great job, but it wasn’t as fun as it would have been in person. We were all in agreement that there needs to be some middle ground in homework so they are writing their homework philosophies and homework policies for homework this week.
One question that I have consistently asked my students every class is “how are you doing?” They seem to be doing well, but some of them feel a bit overwhelmed by all of the homework and coursework this week. I am not sure that university faculty understand that we cannot possibly cover the same material as we had originally planned this semester. This is leaving the students tired, overwhelmed, and anxious. I was talking with a middle school teacher and she said that her administrator told them to “take what we were planning and cut it in half, and then cut it in half and assign that.”

How does one tell a colleague that perhaps you are expecting too much of your students without upsetting them?

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Assignment That Keeps on Giving

Every fall I teach the Geometry for Teachers course at South Dakota State University.  It is the first math content/pedagogy course that our Mathematics with Teaching Specialization majors take. So I find this class especially important because I am starting to build their foundation as a mathematics teacher. Dr. Christine Larson, my awesome colleague, loves that “I get to break them in first.”

The first assignment in the course every fall is a journal entry, where they are to answer the question: Why do you want to be a math teacher? I love lots of assignments in my geometry course, but this is my favorite for two reasons:
  • I get to know the students better; and
  • They always give me hope.
This semester was no different. First of all, I was really impressed that they all had their assignments submitted by 11:30 when they weren’t due until 1:30. Second of all, I am impressed with these students as people. From this journal entry, I can tell that they are kind, generous, thoughtful and caring. The main reasons that they say they want to be math teachers are: making an impact on students’ lives, having had teachers who influenced them, and sharing their passion and love for mathematics.

Every fall after reading this assignment, I get renewed with hope because we have some really awesome future math teachers. They see the importance of teaching, value what teachers do despite the fact that the pay is poor, and pursue this career despite their family’s opposition.

It helps me realize the importance of my job as a math teacher educator and it makes me so proud of them. While I know some of the students in this class as they are my advisees or I have had them in other classes, I don’t know all of them well. However, I am looking forward to another great fall semester in the geometry for teachers course with these intelligent, thoughtful young adults!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Highlights of the Kansas City NCTM Regional Conference

I am behind on my grading, but I feel that right now I need to reflect on the NCTM Regional conference in Kansas City.

First of all, if you are a Mathematics Teacher Educator, I highly recommend that you take your preservice teachers to an NCTM regional or state conference.  These conferences are a great place to get your students engaged in the culture of becoming a great mathematics teacher. I am not downplaying the idea of taking them to the national conference, but I think that they might be overwhelmed by the size. State and regional conferences are smaller and allow for more interpersonal interaction. 

For me, one of the best parts of this trip was the conversations in the minivan to/from the conference.  Sometimes they were about math and sometimes they were not, but these students bonded with each other in a way that cannot be done elsewhere.  If you really want to get to know someone, you take a road trip with them!
Some of the highlights of the conference:
  • Presenting with my wonderful colleague and friend, Dr. Chris Larson.  Our presentations were well attended and our students heard some reviews of the one on Inverse Functions.  They overheard some teachers talking about this great session on inverse functions they attended so the students asked them what time the session was—sure enough it was our session.  The best part was that our students said to these teachers, “those are our professors!”
  • Observing and listening to our @SDState preservice math teachers as they absorb lots of information, get excited about free manipulatives, and most importantly, start their journey in their profession.  I always brag that we have the best math certification program at @SDState, but more importantly, we have the best students!  They are what make our program great.
  • Meeting people from #MTBoS that I have followed for years on Twitter in person, Justin Aion, Annie Forest, John Golden, and Heather Kohn! And meeting new people in #MTBoS, Joel Bezaire, Will Gunn, Pam Harris, and Cindy Johnson. This group has changed my life as an educator.  I keep trying to convince my students of the importance of connecting with fellow math educators on Twitter—I think the conference may have helped those students understand what I mean.
  • Seeing the interview that NCTM did with my amazing colleague, Dr. Larson.  She knocked the interview out of the park.  Check it out at
  • Growing as an educator. Educators have so many wonderful ideas and listening to them share what they do in their classroom makes me better at my job.  I always tell my students, “if you think that you are done growing as a teacher, then you should probably retire.” As a teacher, you should always be learning new things.

Thanks to the KC NCTM Regional committee for accepting our presentations and thanks to my students for attending the conference with me and making me think about what I can do to become a better math teacher educator.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Am I convincing my preservice teachers of the power of Twitter?

I am doing a study with Dr. Christopher Parrish from the University of South Alabama on the use of the #MTBoS community with preservice teachers.  So, I asked my students to get a Twitter account if they didn’t already have one and they have had a couple of assignments with Twitter.  The first one was to follow 10 math people on Twitter and share why they chose to follow them.  The second one was to observe a Twitter Chat.  I didn’t want to force them to participate in one as I felt it would be too intimidating.  However, I thought following along with one would expose them to what a Twitter chat was like, without the pressure of participation.

Throughout this semester, I have sensed the skepticism of my students of Twitter being helpful to them as a future teacher.  However, after they completed their reflections on the Twitter chat, I feel hopeful that they may actually see the potential of Twitter.  Here are some comments from their reflections that stood out to me:

I think it is unique, fun, and interesting that teachers from all over the country hop onto Twitter and chat together! I think that it would be fun to answer questions about this, but more fun to debate with people on why they answered the topic question. I like debating. Don’t get this mixed up with arguing. I like seeing different sides. I would consider myself an easy-going, open minded individual. I think that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and that is what I think the
beauty is in Twitter.

I love that the ED chat is based off of a hashtag so that I can look back at some of these teaching techniques after the chat is over and take notes on what I want to use in the future for my own classroom. Also, following along with an ED chat really opened my eyes to how useful twitter can be to me in my own classroom. We had so many chats to choose from for this assignment and it has helped me realize that I constantly can ask for help from the many math teachers in the world of Twitter.

I had no idea things like this existed; and I think they are such a beneficial way to learn about topics you might not know much about.  You can also see what opinions other teachers have out there.  Lastly, I think it is a great way to share resources one might have found and has found useful.  Twitter chats are really beneficial, and in the future I definitely would like to read more.

My first and biggest reflection was that I am completely overwhelmed by it. I did choose one of the more popular chats so I assume this would be subject to change based on the chat. My next emotion that comes to my mind is surprise. I was honestly surprised at the participation level across the nation. This brings me to my final emotion, happiness. Knowing that there are so many resources out there that are willing to be shared by so many is such a great resource for me as a future teacher.

But the best part of this week was that two of my students actually tweeted at me and included the class hashtag, #Math261. These tweets are below.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

A Geometry Scavenger Hunt

Last year on the first day of my Geometry for Teachers course, I decided to have the pre-service teachers do a geometry scavenger hunt.  What does one do on a geometry scavenger hunt?  Find geometric objects, of course.  The groups were required to document the object they found with a picture.  Then they had to describe the campus location of the object and how they knew the object met the criteria for the required geometric shape.

In the #Math261 course last fall, there were only 5 students, 2 groups of scavengers.  This year I have 17 students so I formed 5 scavenger groups.  I thought it would be easier for the students if I created a template in Google Slides, one geometric figure per slide.  Then they could just add their pictures and descriptions to the slides as they hunt.

I used a random group generator to create the five groups, 4 groups of 3 and 1 group of 4 (one student added the class late so only 16 students at the time).  It was definitely more fun because there are more students in the course.  I loved randomly putting them in groups so that they can get to know their classmates on the first day.  It is a fun activity and I will continue to use it on the first day of class. I think that the Google Slides template worked well also. 

The best part is that I actually enjoyed “grading” the results.  That is pretty impressive as my students know that I am not a huge fan of grading.  One bonus is that I got to know the students a little better when I graded—this wasn’t something that I was expecting.  This group of pre-service teachers is creative, funny, thorough, and competitive.  We are going to have a lot of fun in class this semester!  Here is an Adobe Spark video of some of my favorite slides.