Fellow Profile: Megan Alexander
- G-TEAMS Cohort: 2009-10
- Graduate Program: Biomedical Engineering
- Teacher Partners: Christine Erickson & Briana Gryzynger
- School: Gale Elementary School
- Grade level: 1
- Topics: Mathematics & Science
"If our society wants to produce more mathematicians, scientists, engineers, or anything likewise, we must focus on teaching the fundamentals and providing a passion for math in young students at the earliest time possible."
Megan’s research interest is nerve mechanics in the Soft Tissue Biomechanical Laboratory under Dr. Jonathan Vande Geest. More specifically she studies the biomechanical properties of the recurrent laryngeal nerve (nerve that innervates the larynx or voice box) in order to understand the idiopathic (of unknown cause) onset of Unilateral Vocal Fold Paralysis (UVP). By performing tensile testing on the RLN, she is able to characterize the ability of the RLN to resist stretching and compression and represent the behavior with a constitutive model. Understanding the biomechanical response of this nerve will allow a better understanding of the causes of idiopathic UVP.
Megan has been working with 1st grade teachers Briana Gryzynger and Christine Erickson at Gale Elementary School. Megan’s goals for her classroom involvement include:
- Teach mathematics in conjunction with other subjects, especially science, and always bring in hands-on activities.
- Engage students in “mathematical thinking”;
- Develop a better of understanding of ‘why’ rather than just ‘how’ in mathematics.
- Build student confidence by encouraging and them and allowing them to have fun so that they do not become afraid of mathematics.
As a scientist and engineer, I believe that mathematics and science should be taught in conjunction. Before I became a G-TEAMS fellow I already knew that mathematics is a big problem area for many students because of my own educational experience in public schools. One of the things I hear from people every day, whether it’s from students, parents, friends, etc., is “I’m just not good at math”. This has become the reason many people don’t pursue careers in scientific and technological fields, or any other field that may require any math more advanced than college algebra.
An important question might be, when does this negative attitude about mathematics begin? Now that I have seen the classroom from a new perspective I understand that the first grade classroom is a very complicated place. In primary schools, the level of maturity and ability varies greatly and teachers must constantly evolve with the students. Catering to a great variety of students' needs has proven to be the most difficult task of all. Now that I am a fellow in a first grade classroom, I can see that the most important thing is instilling the right attitude about mathematics at a very young age. This is done by building confidence through encouragement and allowing the students to have fun with mathematics.
For all students, but especially young ones, mathematics is best taught through inquiry based learning (hands on activities). A great way to implement hands on mathematics lessons is with science curricula.