In Texas middle schools, only around 70 percent of students actually pass our state standardized tests in math. — Candace Walkington, SMU

Texas Tribune reporter Sanya Monsoor interviewed SMU education expert Candace Walkington, an assistant professor of Teaching and Learning in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, for a Q&A about teaching math to middle school and high school students.

Walkington specializes in mathematics education. She holds a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics from Texas A&M University, and she is a former NSF-GK12 Fellow and college mathematics professor. She received her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Texas at Austin. She was also an IES Postdoctoral Fellow in Mathematical Thinking, Learning, and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was a recipient of the prestigious Spencer Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Grant.

Walkington’s research examines how abstract mathematical ideas can become connected to students’ concrete, everyday experiences such that they become more understandable. She conducts research on “personalizing” mathematics instruction to students’ out of-school interests in areas like sports, music, shopping, and video games. She also examines ways to connect mathematical practices with physical motions including gestures. Her work draws upon theories of situated and embodied cognition, and she is an active member of the learning sciences community. Her research uses both qualitative methods like discourse and gesture analysis, and quantitative methods like hierarchical linear modeling and educational data mining.

The Texas Tribune article, “The Q&A: Candace Walkington,” published April 12, 2017.

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By Sanya Monsoor
Texas Tribune

With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week’s subject:

Candace Walkington is an assistant professor in teaching and learning at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on innovative ways to teach math to middle school and high school students.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Trib+Edu: Tell me about your research as it relates to teaching math differently.

Candace Walkington: My research mainly focuses on ways to make mathematics instruction more engaging for students in grades six through 10. Research suggests that’s a particularly problematic time for students when it comes to motivation and interest in math.

I look at interventions where mathematics is connected to things that students are interested in, like popular culture interests. This could include their experiences playing sports, playing video games, engaging with social media and how they’re using numerical and algebraic reasoning in all of these contexts.

Trib+Edu: Why is mathematics intervention important for this age group?

Walkington: In Texas middle schools, only around 70 percent of students actually pass our state standardized tests in math. If you look at the passing rate for students who are economically disadvantaged, it’s around 60 percent. These numbers have been on a pattern of decline.

According to ACT scores, only 42 percent of test takers in Texas are deemed college ready in mathematics, meaning they have a reasonable chance of being successful in an introductory college algebra course.

So things are happening around this middle school transition and the end of high school transition, which is causing a lot of students to turn away from mathematics, disengage and run into trouble in these classes.

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