New math teacher and M.Ed. candidate, Manju Connolly, shares her first-year teaching experience

New math teacher and M.Ed. candidate Manju Connolly shares her experiences in the initial teaching license program and what she’s learned the first year on the job.

What drove you to enroll in the program?

I participated in the DirecTrack to Teaching program as an undergraduate, which allows students interested in teaching to take course and  engage in service-learning teaching to fulfill prerequisites for the M.Ed and Initial Teaching License (ILP) program. I had two positive experiences with student-teaching placements in Minneapolis Public Schools. That, along with the reflective discussions we shared in the class solidified my interest in teaching. I also gained relationships with Minneapolis Public School teachers and mentorship from our DirecTrack teacher. Knowing that the M.Ed/ILP program would allow me to stay connected to these resources and maintain relationships I valued with other professors and peers, I decided to enroll.

Were there any surprises and challenges along the way?

Student teaching is challenging! It is one thing to practice making lesson plans and analyze the effectiveness of lesson plans through methodology classes, but it’s another thing to implement plans live with a group of students whose learning (and grade!) is directly affected by your performance. The experience has been terrifying, difficult, and thrilling. I was lucky to have two very supportive cooperating teachers, who provide me with clear expectations and ample feedback to help me improve my work.

What has been your experience with the faculty?

There are many faculty and staff that contribute to our cohort’s success, and I am especially grateful for our math education professors. Erin Baldinger always encourages us to think critically about how to maximize student learning. She also helped us be intentional about analyzing tasks and lesson plans for effectiveness. In terms of our claim to fame, it’s hard to find a math teacher in the Twin Cities (or maybe statewide…nationwide???) who doesn’t know about Terry Wyberg. His connections and positive reputation reach each aspect of our training, from getting us school observation opportunities to landing student teaching placements to networking with districts as we navigate the job search process.

How have you felt about the cohort model and experience?

I feel like we each had an important place in our class discussions, and would like to recreate the collaborative environment of sharing ideas, asking questions, and even arguing, that we experienced in the cohort model. As I have transitioned to being a teacher, having the cohort peers is invaluable for getting new ideas, sharing practices, and having an ear for when you just want to vent to someone else who cares as much about teaching as you do.

Has the student teaching helped you feel prepared to enter your own classroom?

I could not have been luckier with my placement. I had two cooperating teachers who were constantly seeking ways to connect the learning targets to the knowledge and experiences students bring. Our topics and projects were often motivated by videos, images, or students’ personal reflections. Most importantly, I got a chance to see how a collaborative group of teachers function within the math department; My teachers established early on that they would be direct with their feedback, and as a result I felt comfortable suggesting tasks or tweaks for our lesson plans because my ideas are valued, whether they are implemented by the team or rejected with justification.

What were your goals post-graduation? How did your first year live up to your expectations?

After graduating the licensure program in May, I finished up the semester at my student teaching placement and interviewed for high school math teacher positions. My goal had been to teach in the Twin Cities in an urban high school where I could support Spanish-speaking students and collaborate with an enthusiastic math department. I am very happy with the school I chose because it has a diverse student body, reminded me of my own high school in Chicago area, and has an immensely supportive math department team. We share resources, troubleshoot, and communicate weekly. This support has been the most valuable part of my new school, and I would be having a much tougher first year without it.

After this first year, I will recuperate, reflect on what worked and what did not, tweak or overhaul lesson plans for the upcoming year, and complete the final three classes of the M.Ed degree as I teach my second year.

Any other thoughts you want to share about your experience?

Teaching should not be an individual or isolated profession, and I know I need a lot of moral and professional support in my first few years. My teachers helped me apply for a fellowship, the Knowles Teacher Initiative, and I am thankful to count on that for continued support for my first five years and beyond. I am also thankful to reflect on my experience and have no regrets on choosing this program. I hope to maintain lifelong relationships with several faculty and cohort members because I believe it is an essential part of well-being. I plan on participating in local, state, and national math conferences to stay connected with them and motivated in the classroom.

Teaching will always be challenging, but I am ready to embrace the challenge and enjoy it because I now have a great group of people on my team.

Find out more about the M.Ed. and Initial Teaching License program in Mathematics Education.

C&I receives several STEM and technology research grants

The Department of Curriculum and Instruction, known nationally and internationally for cutting-edge research in education, received grant awards for several research projects this summer in the fields of STEM education and Learning Technologies.

Associate professor in the Learning Technologies program, Bodong Chen, received $169,041 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue his work over the next two years on “Cyberlearning: Connecting Web Annotations and Progressive Online Discourse in Science Classrooms.”

Julie Brown, an assistant professor in C&I’s STEM Education Program, received $1,022,146 from NSF over three years for her work with Keisha Varma on “ESPRIT: fostering Equitable Science through Parental Involvement and Technology.”

C&I’s Gillian Roehrig, a professor in the STEM education program, was awarded $103,172 by NSF for “Teacher Network Retention in Noyce Communities of Practice, State University of New York at Stony Brook.”

Kathleen Cramer’s GopherMath Project earned $50,000 over nine months from Greater Twin Cities United Way. Cramer is a C&I professor who specializes in mathematics education for children in grades 4-8.

Cassandra Scharber, a professor in the Learning Technologies program and co-director of the Learning Technologies Media Lab, received multiple grants for her project SciGirls Code LRNG Playlists. Grant organizations included Twin Cities Public Television, the University of California – Irvine, and the MacArthur Foundation.

STEM education professor, Lesa Covington Clarkson, was awarded $95,767 from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education over 14 months for “e3Algebra: Engineering Engaging in Eighth Grade Algebra in Urban Classrooms.”

Learn more about the Department of Curriculum and Instruction’s research projects, centers, and areas of faculty expertise.

C&I’s Erin Baldinger shares strategies to prepare math teachers for success

Erin Baldinger, Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction leverages her experience as a mathematics teacher and educational researcher to prepare aspiring mathematics teachers to effectively communicate their knowledge of math to their students.

“I’ve found that most teachers come into the field with a deep background in math. The problem is that the understanding of mathematics gained through advanced university mathematics courses is not well-connected to the mathematics in the work of teaching,” Baldinger explains.

She distills her experience into five teaching strategies to effectively support all students to engage in mathematics:

Five Techniques for Better Math Teachers

Improving math education and preparation programs for math teachers is a complicated task, but through my experience and research I’ve learned some general principles and strategies that are effective in helping support all students to engage in mathematics.

  1. Believe that all students can learn math. You must believe that every one of your students – no matter their background or current level of knowledge – is capable. Look for each student’s individual strengths and how you can leverage those strengths in the classroom. To me, this is the fundamental underlying principle of being a good teacher.
  2. Use rehearsals as a preparation tool. The most important things that I do in teacher preparation classes is helping my students connect the ideas that we read about to their own practice as teachers. One of the ways I do this is through “coached rehearsals.” One student will lead a discussion while the other members of the class act as the “kids.” During the rehearsal, we have the chance to stop, ask questions, and give feedback, so the discussion leader can get an idea of the kinds of dilemmas they’ll face in a classroom – without the pressure of being in front of a classroom of kids. Later, we use the process of recording video of novice teachers in the classroom and give them the opportunity to analyze their own performance and give feedback to one another.
  3. Explore multiple solutions to math problems. Doing math with my students is critical. When I’m teaching aspiring math teachers, we’ll do math problems that I would then have them do with their own students. During this process, we analyze the problems, looking for multiple solutions strategies. This helps them gain perspective on how their students might approach a problem. It also highlights that there are often multiple mathematically valid ways to approach a task, and the teacher’s role is to help students make connections among the different solution strategies.
  4. Listen. Secondary math teachers must be committed to listening to their students and understanding what they have to say about mathematics. By valuing all student contributions and building on them, you’ll help them cultivate a deeper mathematical understanding.
  5. Understand that there’s no quick fix. With my students, I use multiple strategies to help them learn about teaching. Sometimes it’s rehearsals, sometimes it’s doing math tasks, sometimes we’re watching video or reading and analyzing various aspects of teaching. Having all those touchpoints is critical for me. It’s counterproductive to try and have a quick fix or to think that there’s one technique that will work all the time. Teaching is tough, complex work – but with the right approach I’ve seen my aspiring math teachers – and their pupils – make tremendous strides.
    Read the full article on the CEHD Vision 2020 Blog.

Learn more about the teacher licensure program in mathematics in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

Professor Lesa Clarkson receives award for inspiring women in STEM education

lesa clarkson
Lesa Clarkson, associate professor in mathematics education

Lesa Clarkson, associate professor of mathematics education in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, was honored with the INSIGHT into Diversity 2016 Inspiring Women in STEM Award and will be featured in the September issue of INSIGHT into Diversity magazine. The award honors “remarkable women in STEM professions who continue to make a significant difference through mentoring and teaching, research, successful programs and initiatives, and other efforts worthy of national recognition.”

Clarkson’s research agenda focuses on mathematics in the urban classroom, specifically identifying successful strategies that increase student achievement primarily among underrepresented student groups. She focuses on African-American students, specifically, because this group of students historically has the lowest scores on the national and state assessments. Clarkson believes, “The color of a student’s skin is not correlated to their achievement in mathematics.”

Clarkson’s research aims to find best practices that will provide all students with engaging mathematics experiences in addition to the basic “tools” that are essential for students.