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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Math education research: A complete non-scary and actually interesting area of math

    Jen Pimentel
    Dr. Rebecca McGraw and Dr. Jennifer Eli pose for a photo in the ENR2 building. Both women research math education at the UA.

    Math is often seen as a scary subject; something to be feared and hated rather than understood and enjoyed. It is also widely believed that math is a topic people are inherently good at, that understanding mathematics is a skill you are born with, not a process you can practice for improvement.
    Despite people’s fear of mathematics, math education research can, and should, pique the interest of even the most math-phobic person.
    Math education research investigates a wide array of topics, from the way students think about geometry problems to the skills math teachers must possess in order to be successful.
    Dr. Rebecca McGraw, a UA associate professor in the department of mathematics, researches how elementary education and math education majors understand geometry problems. She also studies how professional development sessions can serve to better teachers’ math skills.
    According to McGraw, one of the biggest current issues in math education research is “how to increase opportunities and achievement in math for all students,” with the ultimate goal being greater diversity in the STEM workforce.
    A second major topic in math education research is finding ways to engage students in a “productive struggle around challenging mathematics,” said Dr. Jennifer Eli, another UA mathematics associate professor, who specifically researches math education.
    Understanding the importance of making mistakes is referred to as a “growth mindset,” according to Eli. She stressed the importance of showing students that understanding math is a process, not something that comes without effort.
    This focus on helping students succeed is also evident in other areas of STEM education research.
    According to Dr. Antonio Garcia, a biomedical engineering professor at Arizona State University, there is a strong interest in “enhancing how STEM is taught—especially in the lower division courses—in order to motivate students, retain them in STEM disciplines to graduation, and practice as well as attract the next cohort of students.”

    While many students fear math and dread their math requirements and statistics courses, math education researchers are acutely aware of people’s fear and dislike toward mathematics. They are actively working to combat such stereotypes and give every student the chance to succeed in mathematics.

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