Fellow Profile: Chantel Blackburn
- G-TEAMS Cohort: 2010-11
- Graduate Program: Mathematics
- Teacher Partner: Lorraine Kaldman
- School: Safford Middle School
- Grade level: 7
- Topics: Number, Algebraic Reasoning, Probability and Statistics, Geometry
"Mathematics is more about a way of thinking than doing calculations and most of all, it's just plain fun!"
Chantel completed her master's thesis in the area of algebra (more specifically, modular group theory) in the spring of 2009. For her work she wrote a program using the programming language GAP (Groups, Algorithms, Programming) to determine the simple representation modules of a large number of finite simple groups. To do this work she utilized the character information for finite simple groups available in the Atlas of Group Representation. Her other research interests in mathematics include mathematical modeling in biology and the Hausdorff Metric Geometry.
Chantel is currently working toward her PhD in mathematics with an emphasis on mathematics education for her dissertation. Her mathematics dissertation research interests include both prospective and inservice teacher preparation and development in the context of specialized mathematics knowledge needed for teaching place value.
Her mathematics education interests also include development and training in reasoning and problem solving, relationships between arithmetic skills and algebraic manipulation, collaborations between mathematicians and mathematics educators, and how the structure of the mass education system in the United States influences the ways in which mathematics is taught.
Chantel has been working with four periods of 7th grade mathematics students (including one group of "accelerated" students) with Lorraine Kaldman at Safford Middle School. Together, they have been utilizing a variety of methods to motivate and interest their students in learning mathematics.
Chantel has been providing the students with challenging Sudoku puzzles in order to both help strengthen students' problem solving skills and learn how to provide justification for their work. Starting in the spring of 2011, the students have been spending much of their time working on a variety of mathematical topics in rotating group stations. On these days, Chantel spends much of her time working with students individually as they review and practice skills or solve group problems.
One of the main things I've realized is that it is very hard to motivate 7th graders who do not want to do math. Further, what I believe is fun - students probably will not. And what students believe is fun - I have no idea why! It is definitely a challenge to find ways to engage students in the mathematics. And although I can't say I'm getting much better at that, I have realized that sometimes hearing students complain about the mathematics being hard doesn't mean that they aren't working. Sometimes they are, and when they conquer the challenge, they can actually get excited!
I've also learned that a lot of working with 7th graders is about "debugging". Often I see that student's thinking and processes for solving problems are correct, but they often get bogged down in arithmetic errors that throw things off.
I think one of the most important things that I've learned is that, even at 7th grade, there are still things that the students don't necessarily know how to do - and that we need to teach them. Things like working together in groups, organizing information for a poster, or what makes a good explanation/interpretation.