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.