I'm a cheerleader for students. I'm bringing them along on the learning journey and want everyone to succeed.

Eliza Congdon

Gestures and mathematics go hand-in-hand in Professor Eliza Congdon's research.

We gesture when we talk, "spontaneously and especially when learning [or teaching] challenging things like math," explains the psychology professor, whose research lies at the intersection of how children learn mathematics, gestures and language. Simply put, Congdon studies human thinking. By working to understand the learning process, her research encompasses broader principles in cognitive science that can be applied beyond mathematics.

Congdon has always liked math but remembers struggling with high school problem sets — even under the guidance of her math-teacher father. Her mother has also done math-curriculum development, and both parents have influenced Congdon’s interest in understanding how people learn math. As a graduate student, she worked on understanding how math input in the home can affect long-term outcomes as well as how gesture and language can work together to support math learning. Congdon describes her research as a niche that integrates these interests.

At Bucknell, Congdon's interactions with undergraduates cover more than labs and seminars. "Since I started my research, working with undergraduates has been a part of my process at every stage," she says. She wants students to learn about the entire process of research, from the logistics of contacting schools and coordinating schedules to working directly with children, and ultimately to presenting their findings.

In a previous seminar, Congdon engaged undergraduates by having them create a game for 3- to 7-year-olds targeted at improving their understanding of mathematical concepts. Through that process, her students were able to explore many angles of learning, from what humans are born with that allows for mathematical thinking to how that translates — or gets lost — when children enter formal schooling.

Congdon says she's excited about the personal interaction offered by Bucknell's small classes, which she views as particularly helpful for teaching research methods where different students will struggle with different concepts. "I'm a cheerleader for students. I'm bringing them along on the learning journey and want everyone to succeed."

Posted Oct. 6, 2017