Associate professor receives prestigious grant to study mathematics teaching | UToledo News

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Associate professor receives prestigious grant to study mathematics teaching

Dr. Debra Johanning, shown here sharing a laugh with students in the Teaching Problem Solving in Mathematics class last week, received an Early Career Grant from the National Science Foundation to develop materials to support instructors teaching mathematics.

Dr. Debra Johanning, shown here sharing a laugh with students in the Teaching Problem Solving in Mathematics class last week, received an Early Career Grant from the National Science Foundation to develop materials to support instructors teaching mathematics.

After spending 10 years as a middle school mathematics teacher and realizing the challenges associated with helping students understand fractions and fraction operations, Dr. Debra Johanning is tackling the issue head on.

Johanning, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the Judith Herb College of Education at The University of Toledo, applied for and received one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious grants to study teacher practices associated with algorithmic development of fraction operations and to design professional development materials to support teachers in teaching mathematics.

“While teaching, I experienced firsthand how challenging it is to teach students fractions. This is something that I am interested in personally, and there is also a need for further research in this area,” Johanning said.

With the five-year, $598,860 Early Career Grant, Johanning will collaborate with teachers in varied settings to research practices to engage students in fraction-based algorithmic thinking associated with fraction operations. This type of thinking is tied to helping students understand the meaning of fraction operations and to become adept at the procedures required to work with fractions.

The findings from this first phase will support the design, piloting and study of professional development tools that can be used with all teachers.

“Fractions and fraction operations can be one of the most challenging subjects to teach, and it is equally challenging for teachers to learn to teach fraction operations effectively. Students who struggle with fractions typically find algebra and other upper-lever mathematics courses challenging,” Johanning said. “The goal of this research is to identify effective practices that will support learning mathematics, perhaps the most challenging of all fields of study. Importantly, this research will encourage students to prepare for and to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) career paths.”

The Early Career Grant in the National Science Foundation supports junior faculty members who are recognized as superior teacher-scholars because of their outstanding research, excellent teaching skills, and demonstrated ability to integrate education with research.

“When a faculty member at UT is recognized as being the best in his or her field, the University also benefits because UT gains public recognition as a top university. In this case, Dr. Johanning was recognized as one of the top math education faculty in the country, which means that she excels in teaching, leading-edge research and in community engagement, which, together, define the mission of this University,” said Dr. Tom Brady, interim dean of the Judith Herb College of Education. “Furthermore, award-winning faculty attract other top faculty, which at the end of the day means that students at UT will all benefit because they will have the great advantage of learning from the best in the world.”

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