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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

My Favorite Two Days of Summer

Each summer since 2011, I have had the privilege of planning and organizing the REMAST Summer Conference. The REMAST Scholarship Program is funded by the National Science Foundation—it provides ‘scholarships’ to SDSU students majoring in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics seeking Teaching Certification. For each semester the student receives the 'scholarship' the student is required to teach for one year in a high-need district. Since NSF funded the REMAST in 2007, our program has done the following:
  •  Awarded $895,000 to 60 undergraduate science & math majors;
  • 56 scholars have graduated with teaching certification in math or science; 3 dropped out of REMAST; 1 is still enrolled in REMAST;
  • 44 of 56 (78.5%) are either teaching or involved in some aspect of education (counseling, administration, Dept of Education); and
  • 4 of 56 (7.1%) are enrolled full-time in a graduate program.
Yes, these numbers are very impressive, but even more impressive are the REMAST alumni. It is hard to explain so I will give some personal anecdotes:
  •  one teaches all the high school science courses and has started a Family Science Night in her school district to get elementary students excited about science;
  • one has a morning bus route, drives bus for the basketball team, serves as FCCLA advisor, and does statistics for all of the home basketball games;
  • one teaches on an Indian Reservation and posted this on FB recently, “Five years ago they made me question why I ever thought I could be a teacher. Today they walked across the stage and made me proud to have known each and every one of them. I’ll remember all the laughter and headaches they have brought to me over the years and continue to pray for their happiness and success;”
  • one had a nickname for the students in her classroom--this year it was Baumbach’s Blue Baracudas;
  • one helps students with math during the lunch hour, coaches MathCounts, and is starting a XC team;
  • one took a long-term sub as an elementary music teacher and then incorporated science by having the students learn how to identify songbirds; and
  • one has 5 preps, 2 student clubs, coaches grade girls basketball, and teaches her students how to make hexamexaflexagons (hexaflexagons out of tortillas).
Now you get the picture—these are dedicated math and science teachers who have learned that the key to being a successful teacher is building relationships with their students!  I don’t take credit for that—they have that quality all on their own and I suspect that they all had it before being involved in the REMAST program. I can take credit for organizing and planning the conference and bringing them together each year—and it truly is my favorite two days of summer!

This year we had Joy Kirr as our keynote speaker—we talked about grading, what does a grade mean, what should be included in a grade, and how we can make small shifts in our classrooms to have a big impact on our students.  Most of the REMAST alumni already get that!  They now just have specific ideas that they can use.  In addition, we had Sara VanDerWerf explain how to do Stand and Talks—I am excited to try that in my classroom this year. One of our alumni talked about how to create a Family Science Night, several people shared favorite lessons and technology, and Mark Iverson showed us how he uses 3D printing in his middle school classroom. And I created a Straw Bridge Building activity that needs lots of improvements, which we learned during the activity.

I think that Joy Kirr said it best when she emailed me and thanked me and said, “What a stellar group of educators you've got here - I felt both humbled and inspired by them!”  These two days of summer always remind me why I do what I do and why I love it! It IS about building relationships and I model that with the REMAST group every day.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Summer in the life of an academic

This cartoon was posted this week on Twitter by PhD Comics and it really hit home. Every May when classes and finals are over, people ask me what I am doing this summer.  While I am on a 9-month contract, I pretty much work most of the summer.  I don’t work every day or even necessarily all day on days I work, but I do work nonetheless.  And this cartoon explains it, but you probably need more details.
My contract officially ended on May 11th and the next week there were 3 deadlines: May 15 to submit a presentation to National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) annual conference next April, same day to submit a presentation to the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) annual conference next February, and May 17 at 3:30 pm CDT to submit a Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant to the U.S. Dept of Education.  With the help of some awesome colleagues, I am a co-speaker (with Chris Larson) on an NCTM submission, a co-presenter (Christopher Parrish) on an AMTE submission, and the PI on a SEED grant (with Chris Larson).
Monday, May 21st brought another deadline to submit a workshop proposal to the NSF Noyce Summit in July.  We (Matt Miller, Amanda Jensen, and I) were able to meet that deadline. Last week I also worked on a poster for the Geometry for Teachers conference at the University of Michigan on June 13 - 15. This week Amanda and I are going to work on a NSF Noyce Summit poster submission, which is due on June 1st.  In the meantime we are preparing for the annual REMAST summer conference, which will be held on June 19-20 in Brookings.
I will get a little break at the end of June before we head to Washington, D.C. July 16 – 18 for the NSF Noyce Summit.  In between all of these deadlines and events, I need to complete a research paper on teacher resilience for our NSF Noyce program and help Amanda get started on her Master’s research paper. 
Also, this summer I should work on preparing for classes for next year—my Geometry for Teachers course will have 18 students in the fall, much more than usual, which means I may need to make some adjustments.  I am excited to teach the History of Mathematics course next spring.  I have taught it before at a different university, but this time I will use a different book.
So, yes, I will be working this summer on things that didn’t get done during the academic year.  Most 9-month faculty have similar summers--it is what we need to do to be relevant in our profession.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Why the push to end collective bargaining for higher education faculty?

When I first heard that South Dakota Representative Mark Mickelson was going to bring a bill to the legislature to end collective bargaining at SD public universities, I was struck by two statements in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader article

It says, “He said professors weren't willing enough to teach courses on weekends or weeknights due to terms of their contracts, prompting his frustration.”  Were the faculty unwilling to teach on weekends or weeknights or did they tell him that he couldn’t force them to teach on weeknights and weekends? I view those as two different situations.  I also noticed that it said they “weren’t willing enough,” which, to me, means that it wasn’t their first choice.  As a faculty member, it certainly wouldn’t be my first choice either.  However, I can tell Mr. Mickelson that there are LOTS of faculty who WORK on weeknights and weekends already, even if they aren’t teaching classes at those times.

The other statement in the article that bothered me was “Something needs to change, these people need to be shaken up a little bit," Mickelson said.  What have “these people” (faculty) done that needs shaking up?  Is it because we don’t really want to teach on weeknights or weekends?

Neither of the reasons expressed by Mickelson in the article are legitimate concerns to end collective bargaining.  We have a hard enough time recruiting faculty to South Dakota, we don’t need a lack of collective bargaining to be another barrier to faculty recruitment and retention.

When I heard that Governor Dennis Daugaard was supportive of Mickelson’s bill, I was not completely surprised. What did surprise me was the following statement in the Associated Press article, “Daugaard, a Republican, says he worries that unionization in some cases has made it difficult for administrators to retain certain employees and discipline others who need it.” How would unionization make it difficult to retain employees?  Did Daugaard misspeak and mean to say that it has “made it difficult to fire certain employees”?

It seems to me that both SD Republican politicians that support HB 1199 have yet to give legitimate reasons why this bill is necessary.  For once, I would like SD legislators to focus on real issues that concern the citizens of SD:  funding for education, increasing state revenue, and diversifying state industries.