Fellow Profile: Margaret Dominguez
- G-TEAMS Cohort: 2013-14
- Graduate Program: Optical Sciences
- Teacher Partners: Liz Arvold and Cindy Wong
- School: Elvira Elementary School
- Grade level: 4
- Topics: Mathematics & Optics
"It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use it well."
- René Descartes
"Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple."
- Dr. Seuss
Margaret Dominguez is a graduate student in the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona. Her research interests are mainly in optical metrology, which is the use of light for making precision engineering measurements and manufacturing optical technology. This includes mirrors and lenses, which can be used, among other things, in telescopes. More specifically, she has been doing experimental work as part of an effort to improve a technique developed at her college. SCOTS (Software Configurable Optical Test System) is used to measure lenses and mirrors, to be able to quantify their deviation from perfect for usability regardless of manufacturing imperfections. While in graduate school, Margaret has been working at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center where she has been a member of the Optics Branch. There she has worked in multiple groups working on various space missions, like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) support missions, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System (ATLAS), the Coastal Ocean Ecosystem Dynamics Imager (COEDI), among others.
Margaret has been working with fourth grade teacher Liz Arvold at Elvira Elementary School of the Sunnyside Unified School District in South Tucson. Together, they have been implementing the Mathematics Common Core Standards by having the students keep a math journal where they write their thoughts about how they can solve a problem and why. One of the techniques used in class has been collective learning, where the students discuss in small groups of four or five what the answer to a question can be and why and then share their thoughts with the rest of the classroom. The motivation is to move away from traditional teaching methods where students are expected to memorize multiplication tables and recite them. Rather, we want the students to think about a problem and get used to posing different ways of solving it. Multiple solution methods are reviewed and no one method is preferred, the students have the freedom to pick what is the easiest for him or her to use. Sometimes, to change the classroom setting and expose the students to ‘Math in the real world’, Margaret takes several optics demonstrations and experiments to the classroom so that the students may learn different optical and physical phenomena.
The year before I became a GTEAMS fellow, I taught college level optics classes and after completing a Certificate in College Teaching while teaching those classes, I felt more comfortable as an instructor in front of a classroom. However, that has nothing to do with teaching mathematics to fourth graders. Their questions and answers can rarely be anticipated, but being their teacher has been an extremely rewarding experience.
Learning about how the school system works, the challenges the teachers face and the struggles the students have to overcome has made me more aware of the much needed work that we must do to improve the school system and the value of grants like GTEAMS. My teacher partner has taught me to reword and sometimes rethink my lesson plans. I often found myself wanting to do a lot and forgot that the value was in going through less material in a more detailed manner.
Learning classroom management skills from Liz was one of the most fun and effective tools I used in the classroom. However, I constantly felt that my students were well behaved most of the time, which made classroom management a lot easier for me. Finally, the most important lesson I learned was the value of ‘Culturally responsive mathematics’. I learned this at a technical conference about mathematics education and soon realized, what only seems natural, that when the student can connect the lesson with real world problems, or issues that come up at home, the lesson learned goes beyond the classroom and they better remember the skill or concept taught.