Lisa Smith | Assistant Professor of Education

Lisa Smith, assistant professor of education

Q&A with Lisa Smith, assistant professor of education.

MMU: I understand you presented at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Convention, how did you become involved with this conference?

LS: I have been a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics over the past twenty years. They are a foundational organization for bringing together preschool through university teachers of mathematics to build and articulate a clear vision for the teaching and learning of mathematics. They are essential to the research regarding the way in which we learn mathematics as well as defining the mathematics needed by students. I have learned a great deal over the years through my involvement with the organization and was excited to be selected to present at the national conference which included over 7,000 attendees. I have also been active in the state level organization—the Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics—taking students to annual meetings as well as presenting and sharing current methods/ideas with cooperating teachers and students.

MMU: Can you give a quick synopsis of your presentation? What were you hoping conference attendees would walk away with?

LS: Dr. Paula Ganzeveld and I shared our work with a local elementary school to design a standardized, well-grounded plan to help struggling students understand and apply math concepts. One element of this includes a rich daily routine that can be quickly adapted to meet the diverse needs of learners such as an open number line. After sharing some of the ways we used this tool with third and fourth grade students, attendees brainstormed additional ideas and remained involved throughout the workshop as we sought to provide a rationale for as well as examples of each element of the plan. It was exciting to share ideas and stay in touch with attendees who have continued to reach out since the conference.  

MMU: How did you become interested in the topic? Where does your passion for the subject come from?

LS: Math education is a tremendous passion for me. There are so many cultural stereotypes around mathematics, which often result in the belief that math is either the memorization of rules and procedures or something that can only be done by a select few. Growing up I did not see myself as a strong math student and I did not particularly enjoy math. It was only after I was teaching and attending professional development that I began to see a different definition of mathematics and see the great opportunities for all learners.  I now see math based in problem solving and reasoning and developing these habits of thinking. It’s so exciting to watch many of my students change their perceptions of math as they develop their ability to use it as a powerful thinking tool. Many of them come believing they cannot do math, but when they have the opportunity to make greater sense of it, their perspective often changes. It isn’t always an easy process to change a long-held idea or perception, but it can really open up our thinking about what it means to learn. Confidence and literacy in the logic and reasoning of math can be powerful in many settings so it’s rewarding to be a part of opening this door for students.

MMU: How does your research or work outside of MMU inform what you teach in the classroom? In what ways do students benefit?

LS: I teach the elementary math methods courses here at MMU so it’s important that I share with my students what is happening in the field. I also think it’s crucial that my work be authentic. I believe that the best teachers are lifelong learners who stay curious and involved, so I want to keep cultivating those same habits in myself. I stay active in a number of professional organizations and in professional development opportunities to continue to build my understanding of the needs of classroom teachers, as well as the research about math learning and ideas/initiatives for implementing it. Examples from my work in the school or from something I’ve read or learned are frequently a part of our classroom discussions and are useful resources when students are immersed in field experiences. For example, many of our students used an innovative approached called a ‘three act task’ this spring when working at a local elementary. I love it when students get in touch after graduation and share their excitement about the ways their students are making sense of math.

MMU: Was there an idea or bit of research you learned during the conference and found especially interesting? What did you walk away with?

LS: I really enjoy attending a national conference like this and learning from others. I attended several workshops that looked at the research around building a climate of intentional classroom communication about mathematics. So much of our learning happens when we interact with others, share ideas, revise our thinking and ask questions and these are habits I work to encourage in my students. I was able to share with my students some additional strategies and encourage the ways in which what I heard supports what they are doing. I am also able to model some of this learning when working with elementary students and our students in the professional development school.