Outreach & Education
MEFT: Mathematicians Educating Future Teachers
An important mission of many Mathematics Departments is to help prepare elementary, middle, and high school teachers. Experts agree that prospective elementary and middle grades teachers should study the math they will teach (and beyond). Because of this, our math courses for elementary and middle grades teachers are different from courses that math majors take, and so, in fact different from any courses most of our graduate students or faculty have ever taken. Professor Sybilla Beckmann-Kazez has devoted several years of research on the education of future elementary and middle grades teachers and has developed a series of courses taught in our department that have received national recognition for their content and pedagogy.
However, Dr. Beckmann-Kazez was not satisfied with simply developing these courses, as she realized that most faculty and graduate students in the mathematics department had no prior experience with such a course and so needed specialized training. Therefore she developed the MEFT program in conjunction with the department’s VIGRE grant.
MEFT is a two-semester program that was designed to help mathematics graduate students and postdoctoral fellows learn to teach mathematics courses for prospective elementary or middle grades teachers. In the first semester, participants observe a course for teachers. They keep a journal about the course they observe and discuss the content and pedagogy with other MEFT participants. In the second semester, participants teach one of these courses with weekly guidance. A number of graduate students and post-docs have participated in this program over the past few years and have found this to be an eye-opening experience. It will certainly be valuable for them to have this experience as they move on to faculty positions around the country in departments that teach similar courses. Graduate students who are particularly interested in mathematics education can also use this experience as part of the requirements for the Certificate in Mathematics Education that is offered as an interdisciplinary certificate through the Mathematics and Mathematics Education Departments.
Euclid Lab: New faculty member, Dr. David Gay, brings new outreach and research programs
Our new assistant professor David Gay is a co-founder with Juliette Benitez, of an innovative new mathematics research laboratory, Euclid Lab. The lab has a strong emphasis on research-related outreach to middle school and high school students. Euclid Lab was founded in the spring of 2010 during David's six-month visit to the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California. In addition to supporting the individual research programs of its members, Euclid Lab has been steadily developing and growing its flagship outreach program, Camp Euclid. The “about us” page of their web site summarizes Euclid Lab's mission with Plutarch's saying, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, it is a fire to be kindled.”
Camp Euclid is an eight-week research program for middle and high school students that runs three times a year, with two particularly unique features. First, the entire program is conducted in a virtual, online environment so that students can participate from almost anywhere in the world. Students and mentors interact in real time with video, audio, text chat and a virtual white board, as well as posting to a group blog throughout the program and creating a group wiki document at the end of the program. Second, Camp Euclid students dive right in from day one to the “real world” of unsolved problems in mathematics. The only selection criteria for the problems is that their statements should be understandable to high school students and advanced middle school students, and that they should be interesting. Students often choose famously difficult problems to work on, and through this process they learn about working on special cases, posing variations of problems that might be easier, making interesting conjectures, rephrasing problems in other contexts, and all the other tricks of the trade in math research. The main role of the mentors is to keep the students' arguments clear and logical and to facilitate the social dynamic of the collaborations. A guiding principle for the program is that all the mentors should themselves be actively involved in research, thus creating a genuine vertically integrated community of researchers.
Since the summer of 2011, Euclid Lab has involved UGA undergraduate and graduate students as research members and Camp Euclid mentors. David Gay is exploring further possibilities for interaction between UGA and Euclid Lab and we look forward to a fruitful collaboration over the years.
MATHCOUNTS OUTREACH at UGA is a student run organization that works closely with the Math Department and Honors Program. This organization was created by and is run entirely by undergraduate students at UGA. It seeks to foster mentoring relationships with middle school students in the Athens area and accomplishes this goal by working with students of all mathematical abilities to dive deeper into math problems and concepts of problem-solving. The main goal is not to develop ‘superstar mathletes’ but rather to breed a culture of learning and a passion for pursuing academic concepts. Through the MATHCOUNTS program, UGA students, the majority of which are math and math education majors, have the pleasure of developing close connections with middle school students (working with average ratio of 2:1, students to coaches) that give middle school students the motivation to be involved in the learning process. Furthermore, coaches create lesson plans and activities for each practice session that expose curious students to topics they would otherwise never see in middle school classrooms. In the coming spring, MATHCOUNTS Outreach will continue to reach the community by sending nearly 160 coaches to 12 local schools and by hosting its own tournament for participating middle schools.