Students perform better when they feel a sense of discovery. That sense of discovery is what I teach my own students to foster in their classrooms.

Lara Dick

Professor Lara Dick, mathematics, says the best thing about her field is that it can all be explained. "Math is so much more than memorization," she says. "Every algorithm comes from somewhere, and that's what I want my students to teach their students."

Dick loves teaching as much as she loves math. After receiving her master's degree in applied mathematics, she taught high school math for two years and then taught college math for seven years while earning her doctorate in mathematics education. Post-doc work there followed, thanks to a NSF grant focused on mathematics discourse in elementary classrooms. "I've worked with in-service and pre-service teachers of all levels, from kindergarten to college," she says."

Methods of teaching math have changed greatly in just the past few years, but the bottom line, says Dick, is that today's students need to know how to solve a problem in a number of ways. In the past, math classes stressed memorization. This approach alienated a lot of students who might have felt differently if they'd been given the right tools. "Students perform better when they feel a sense of discovery," she says. "That sense of discovery is what I teach my own students to foster in their classrooms."

One of the main challenges in becoming an effective math teacher is learning to diagnose students' thinking, says Dick. "I teach my students to ask their students appropriate questions, and I model questioning techniques in my own classroom," she says. Once you understand how a student is thinking, she adds, it's relatively easy to guide him or her toward making sense of a mathematical concept. "There's nothing like seeing a kid's face light up when he or she figures out the solution on their own. That's the goal."

Posted Sept. 29, 2014