Students from throughout the Dallas area enjoyed exploring the lives of animals through the lens of mathematics. Mathfinder Camp was free to participants thanks to generous funding provided by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Thanksgiving week camp was a joint effort between SMU Simmons, talkSTEM, and the Dallas Zoo.
More than 60 children aged 8-12 attended the educational camp where they got the chance to explore an exciting new math app currently in development. The Mathfinder app, a collaborative effort between SMU Simmons and talkSTEM, is designed to make math fun while sparking curiosity and creativity and instilling a lifelong love for learning in children. The mobile app uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology for use on iPads. Students used the app to watch videos that showed them how to see math in the animals and habitats at the zoo. The AR feature allowed them to insert holograms over their camera feed to see new things in the zoo surroundings.
SMU’s Candace Walkington, Ph.D.is grateful for the collaborative effort in working for the common goal of fostering a love for math and science among children. She also appreciates the data gathered to help further the success of the app. ”It was amazing to see the kids at the zoo using their ‘math lens’ to look at the zoo exhibits and generate their own observations and questions. The kids also loved sharing their mathematical discoveries with each other, their instructors, and even their parents at home.”
Koshi Dhingra, founder of talkSTEM, said, “We were thrilled to partner with SMU and the Dallas Zoo that allowed us to bring this unique educational opportunity to young minds in our community. We believe the camp showed children that math is not only essential but also a fascinating lens through which they can view all the places they go, including the zoo!”
Simmons Dean Stephanie Knight is extremely pleased with all aspects of the Mathfinder camp. “There is nothing better than when our Simmons research is taken into the community to directly serve youngsters by heightening their interest and understanding of math, reading and technology. The fact that it is a collaborative effort with talkSTEM, and the Dallas Zoo makes it even more exceptional. I applaud Dr. Walkington and her team for this excellent work and look forward to the impact the app will have when completed.”
The Mathfinder team plans to run additional camps in the Spring and Summer of 2024. The Girl Scouts of North Texas will participate in that camp at the Dallas Arboretum. The team’s current set of studies is looking at the impact that AR tools in the Mathfinder app have on learning. The long-term goal is to create an app that could be used anywhere to ask and answer mathematical questions about the world around you.
DALLAS (SMU) – College students like Mary Cabanas are in the pipeline to relieve the impact of widespread teacher resignations threatening U.S. public education. But what sets Cabanas apart is that she will enter a tough profession with her eyes wide open, thanks to determination, mentorship and training from SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development.
“Ongoing problems in education have been magnified by the pandemic and the political division in the U.S.,” says Stephanie Knight, Simmons School dean. “And previous approaches to solving the teacher shortage, like alternative certifications, haven’t worked.”
Teachers need to develop knowledge and skills in the classroom early in their teacher education, Knight says. They also need higher pay and to be treated like professionals, which includes the opportunity to be collaborative and creative, Knight says.
Cabanas’ trajectory as an education student may be a model for other students. She has taken collaboration with other future teachers into her own hands, forming SMU’s first student organization for education majors. But instead of taking field trips and hosting guest speakers, each week the Hilltop Educators meet to discuss controversial subjects in education, like book bans and school shootings.
The senior mathematics and education major has been planning to become a teacher since 8th grade. She worked in a classroom early, observing and even teaching a pre-K class as a future teacher intern in high school. At SMU, she is a recipient of the Noyce Teacher Scholarship, which commits her to teach math at a high-need school after graduation in exchange for a scholarship funded by the National Science Foundation.
Mentorship by Noyce Scholar faculty sponsors has opened other doors for Cabanas. On Saturday mornings, she can be found on campus assisting in an education research project comparing the effectiveness of using iPads vs. virtual reality to teach geometry. She also spent a summer researching best practices in math education by watching videos of math teachers and coding their teaching practices. In addition, Cabanas helped analyze the effectiveness of demonstrating to students how workers use math in their careers.
“I’ll take what I’ve learned from research into my classroom,” Cabanas says.
Participating in education research gives Noyce Scholars the opportunity to be part of a larger academic community dedicated to bringing evidence-based practice to education, says Annie Wilhelm, one of Cabanas’ Noyce Scholar mentors and an associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School.
“Research gives students the opportunity to connect what they are learning in class with the K-12 classroom,” Wilhelm says.
Cabanas’ motivation is personal – she wants to teach because teachers made a difference in her life. She moved with her family from Mexico to Texas and, as a 12-year-old middle schooler, faced the challenges of 7th-grade along with the task of learning English and settling in to Garland, Texas.
“My teachers saw my potential,” she says. “As a newcomer, I was scared. It helped to know there were adults who were there for me.”
Cabanas should find plenty of teaching openings when she graduates. Almost two in five teachers plan to quit in the next two years, according to a June survey of members of the American Federation of Teachers.
After graduating in May of 2023, Cabanas plans to begin work at SMU on her Master’s degree in math education while completing her student teaching in fall of 2023. Her dream is to teach math at North Garland High School, where her teachers were so influential to her.
“I have to do this for the next generation,” she said. “If not me, who will?”
Photo cutline: Mary Cabanas, photo courtesy of SMU
Education Week published a commentary by Candace Walkington, Simmons associate professor of mathematics education and learning sciences, and co-author, Ph.D. student, Tiffini Pruitt-Britton, who show that math textbooks are not about indoctrination, but fall short in promoting diversity and inclusion.
Their commentary comes at a time when political accusations inflame education discussions at the local and national levels. Some politicians are declaring what books schools should carry and what subjects should not be taught, such as critical race theory.
“We found no references to race or social justice let alone critical race theory, a framework for understanding how racism has been persistently embedded in policy. But our analysis did show a lack of substantial attention to differences linked to race, culture, gender norms, and sexual orientation in math-story content, they say. Read their commentary here.
Assistant Professor Jeanna Wieselmann, Ph.D., heads up a collaborative research team investigating how elementary teachers integrate their instruction of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The project, Research on Integrated STEM Self-Efficacy (RISE), will examine the STEM integration of 700 elementary teachers who experienced ten different teacher preparation programs across the U.S.
According to Wieselmann, quality integrated STEM instruction requires teachers to attend to the unique aspects of each discipline while also bringing them together in authentic learning opportunities for students, and this can be challenging. The aim is to support the national need to develop and retain highly effective elementary school teachers.
“Elementary teachers are often expected to teach integrated STEM, but teacher preparation programs have been slow to incorporate experiences that prepare teachers for this type of instruction, instead of focusing on mathematics and science as completely separate disciplines. ” she says. “Our project will explore how we can better support early-career elementary teachers to build their confidence and effectiveness in teaching integrated STEM lessons, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of instruction students experience.”
Wieselmann, a faculty member in Simmons’ Department of Teaching and Learning, is the principal investigator of the project’s National Science Foundation Noyce Track 4 research grant (DUE-2151045) totaling $1.3 million. Additional principal investigators include Deepika Menon, Ph.D. (University of Nebraska, Lincoln), Sarah Haines, Ph.D. (Towson University), and Sumreen Asim. Ph.D. (Indiana University Southeast).
Professor Leanne Ketterlin Geller gave the address at SMU’s 2022 Honors Convocation. She advised students to understand not only what they do, but why they do it. Also, she said it was important to find “your people” for intellectual and emotional support. Lastly, set “hairy, audacious goals,” ones that are worth fighting for, even when feeling at the lowest ebb. Her introduction by President R. Gerald Turner starts at 26:05. See the video below.
DALLAS (SMU) – Renowned mathematics researcher Leanne Ketterlin Geller, Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development, has been awarded the largest single-year research award in SMU history.
The nearly $8 million research award from the U.S. Department of Education will allow her team to adapt for use through grade 8 a program originally developed for fourth-graders. The intervention is aimed at helping better prepare students for high school algebra – the “make-or-break” prerequisite for higher math studies that students need for college and/or STEM careers.
The grant will support randomized controlled trials across two states among students in grades 4-8 to determine the effectiveness of a program called “Fraction Face-Off.” The trials will measure success among a diverse group of students experiencing math difficulties across urban, suburban and rural geographies, and will include comparisons between in-person and virtual training of interventionists.
“Many students experience difficulty with fractions in elementary school and then continue to have difficulty as they move through middle school,” said Ketterlin Geller. “When they start algebra, this difficulty becomes increasingly problematic because proficiency in fractions is highly related to algebraic readiness.”
Fraction Face-Off has shown evidence of effectiveness at Grade 4. But Ketterlin Geller points out that the original studies were done with smaller samples in one geographic region of the country.
“We seek to extend this original research with much larger diverse populations in two different states,” she said. “We will then test the effectiveness of this intervention for students in upper elementary and middle schools who need more intensive instructional support to be ready for algebra.”
Ketterlin Geller is director of Research in Mathematics Education in the Simmons School. Her research is informed by her previous experience in K-12 education, having taught high school science in public schools and trained as a K-12 administrator. If the research team is able to demonstrate effectiveness with a larger, more diverse group, Ketterlin Geller said, she hopes usage of the program will expand and student outcomes will improve.
Ketterlin Geller and SMU will take the lead in working with investigators from the American Institute for Research, University of Texas – Austin and University of Missouri. The $7.99 million award for research over a five-year period will be processed this fiscal year.
The US Department of Education’s FY 2021 Education Innovation and Research Competition awarded Professor Leanne Ketterlin Geller an $8 million grant to enhance instructional practices to meet the high needs of students experiencing math difficulties in grades 4-8. The grant is the largest single-year research award in SMU’s history.
Ketterlin Geller and three co-PI’s, Sarah Powell, Ph.D., the University of Texas at Austin, Erica Lembke, Ph.D., the University of Missouri, and Andrew Swanlund, Ph.D., American Institutes for Research, will examine the effectiveness of an intervention, Fraction Face-Off, which has demonstrated positive impact on mathematics achievement. They will address the need to accelerate learning for these students and find cost-effective ways to scale up the practice so students’ understanding of fractions and general mathematics can prepare them for algebra.
LIME (Leaders Investigating Mathematics Evidence) is a project funded by the Office of Special Education Programs to create the next generation of researchers and leaders with Ph.D.s in special education with a focus on mathematics. It will provide tuition and stipend support, travel to conferences, and research support for twelve scholars for four years of doctoral studies. The program will be hosted at three universities: University of Texas, Austin; Southern Methodist University; and the University of Missouri.
Sarah Powell, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Special Education at UT Austin, co-authored the grant along with Leanne Ketterlin-Geller, Ph.D., Simmons professor in the Department of Education Policy & Leadership at SMU, and Erica Lembke, Ph.D., professor in the College of Education at the University of Missouri. Additional team members from SMU Simmons include professors Amy Rouse and Annie Wilhelm, Department of Teaching and Learning.
The new PreK-8 West Dallas STEM School opened in August admitting its first group of students, seventh-and eighth-graders. They are at L.G. Pinkston High School, which will be remodeled to accommodate STEM studies and activities next fall.
The Dallas Free Press reports on how the Dallas ISD school is gaining momentum from its principal, teachers, and the partnership with the community, Toyota USA, and SMU Simmons School of Education and Human Development. Read more.
DALLAS (SMU) – To SMU math curriculum researcher Candace Walkington, the best way for students to understand math is to make it part of their lives. She’ll use her recent $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help students see that math is in the angle of a giraffe’s neck at the Dallas Zoo and in the flutter of the leaves of the cottonwood trees at Twelve Hills Nature Center in Oak Cliff.
These are just two of the stops on Dallas STEM walks, guided walks that illustrate how mathematical principles can be found in one’s surroundings. During the five-year grant, Walkington will partner with Dallas STEM walk nonprofit, talkSTEM, to better understand how educators can support math education outside of school and the role out-of-school experiences like these play in enhancing math education. First up: developing an app that turns a cell phone into an interpretive math tool.
“In this research, rather than having kids see math as symbols that exist on a worksheet or on a computer screen, we want them to see it as something that exists in the world all around them – the trees, the buildings, the artwork and the things they use every day,” says Walkington, associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. “We want to help them to look at the world through the lens of math.”
Researchers will spend the first year of this grant developing a gamified app called Mathfinder, which is targeted to students in grades four through eight. The app will use augmented reality (AR) to create overlays enabling learners to hold up the camera of their cell phones to see mathematical expressions layered over the real-world objects in their camera feeds, such as the angles and shapes within the architecture of a building. It also will include short videos and directions for STEM walks, Walkington says.
“Mathfinder will give feedback to students on the walks they create and provide data to community partners on how much time students spend at each stop,” she says.
STEM walks at nine Dallas learning sites will be featured in the app, including the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas Zoo, Frontiers of Flight Museum, the GEMS Camp, the Girl Scouts STEM Center of Excellence, St. Phillips School and Community Center, Twelve Hills Nature Center and Voice of Hope Ministries.
At the Dallas Arboretum, Dustin Miller, director of experience and innovation, says the four-stop Arboretum STEM walk is already popular with visitors.
“At the Arboretum’s Children’s Adventure Garden, the educational intent is very straightforward,” he says. “The main garden’s STEM walk, however, gives people a way to engage with the garden in a way they don’t expect.”
Participating in the research will give the Arboretum an opportunity to collect quantitative data on site, he says. “This research will help us create ways for visitors to experience the gardens in a new and different way.”
For Koshi Dhingra, founder and CEO of talkSTEM, a nonprofit dedicated to the development of future STEM leaders, participating in the research will help her nonprofit understand best practices for creating STEM walks and correcting roadblocks to learning. The creation of the Mathfinder app promises to make STEM walks more engaging and convenient, she says.
Dhingra earned her doctorate in science education and has dedicated her career to STEM education, but has new appreciation for the importance of understanding mathematical concepts as a building block for all sciences.
“When students begin to see that math is all around them, not just in an algebra or calculus textbook, they begin to see themselves as math people,” she says. “They need this competency and confidence to open doors to other STEM fields.”
The NSF grant builds on Walkington’s previous research on math education. An associate professor of teaching and learning at SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development, Walkington has earned more than $11 million in math education research grants, and in 2019 received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the U.S. Department of Education. Co-principal investigators for the grant include Dhingra; Anthony Petrosino, Simmons associate dean for research and outreach; Cathy Ringstaff, senior research associate, WestEd; and Elizabeth Stringer, director of academics, Guildhall.
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About Simmons School of Education & Human Development
The Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development at SMU (Southern Methodist University) reflects the University’s vision of serving the most important educational needs of our city, region and nation, graduating students for successful careers in a variety of fields and providing educational opportunities beyond traditional degree programs. Recognized as a unique and transformative leader in education research, practice and policy, the School is committed to rigorous, research-driven programs that promote evidence-based, effective practices in education and human development.