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RWRS May 2022 - Nicole, Mathematics Education Professor

Posted by Jessica Tallent on

Meet Nicole, an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education currently teaching at a private university in the Pacific Northwest (USA). Nicole says that she has always been interested in STEM (particularly math) and stayed engaged throughout her school days by taking advanced courses and participating in math teams. She holds a BS in Mathematics & Mathematics Education from Olivet Nazarene University, a MA in Mathematics Education from DePaul University, and a PhD in Mathematics Education from Illinois State University.

Despite encouragement from undergraduate professors to pursue a more technical STEM path, Nicole knew that she wanted to become a mathematics teacher. After teaching high school math for five years, Nicole pursued advanced degrees so that she could work at the university level as a professor. She says that her position as a professor involves three things:  teaching, research, and service.

  Mathematics Education Professor - (n) a professional educator with specialized content expertise who trains and prepares future classroom teachers in effective mathematics instruction methodology  

Through her teaching, Nicole works with future classroom teachers to develop a deep, conceptual understanding of mathematics that they can take into the schools in order to help K-12 students master and better appreciate the content.

Most of Nicole's research centers on how K-5 students think about negative numbers, but recently she has also shifted her research to the importance of asset-based views of mistakes in mathematics. Nicole emphasized that there are still unsolved problems, and also that mathematicians make a lot of mistakes (they are human too!). As Nicole said, mistakes are part of doing math, and it's important to recognize that "productive struggle is part of doing mathematics and life."

The service aspect of Nicole's work as a professor is a fusion of her teaching and research interests. She supports prospective teachers in hosting local family math nights and works with younger students (grades 3-5) on advanced mathematical topics that they do not typically work on in a traditional school day (i.e. graph theory, negative numbers).

Expressly evident is Nicole's devotion to students and becoming lifelong learners. When asked what she would say to young girls to inspire them to pursue a STEM degree program or future career, Nicole gave this valuable reminder:  "Persevere. You are capable and strong. You can achieve whatever you want! It will be challenging at times, but remember:  It's challenging for everyone... When you find your joy, pursue that spark."

Nicole's joy for math and inspiring others to love math is estimable:

"A wonderful aspect of my job is seeing students re-define their relationships with mathematics... Truly, there is no better feeling [than] seeing people who once disliked mathematics find joy in the productive struggle of solving a problem.
"I loved learning as a student and loved school; as a professor who does research, it feels like a lifetime commitment to learning and discovering. I find great reward in my research when I unpack the sophisticated ways that young children think about and construct mathematics. This frames the children as young mathematicians and also helps us as a field understand ways we can support and leverage children's thinking in mathematical discussions."

 

Shop yarns inspired by Nicole and other inspirational real women in STEM.