Research by MTSU duo, team adds up to national math recognition

An MTSU math faculty member and doctoral student are a part of a national award-winning team.

Assistant professor Jennifer Lovett and graduate student Demet Yalman Ozen, both from Murfreesboro, recently earned the 2021 Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators National Technology Leadership Initiative award.

The team included doctoral candidate Nina Bailey and associate professor Allison McCulloch of the University of North Carolina Charlotte; associate professor Lara Kristen Dick of Bucknell University; and associate professor Charity Cayton of East Carolina University.

They created a framework to teach undergraduates what to look for when trying to understand student thinking when the middle school or high school student is doing mathematics with technology. Information about the six recipients can be found here.

The curriculum focuses on using real videos of high school students engaged in mathematics tasks that incorporate technology, Lovett said, adding that not only will the undergraduates learn mathematics and how to teach mathematics with technology, they get to experience real student responses to the task. That way, they can develop more knowledge about student thinking, to use when they are teachers.

Since 2000, the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education, or SITE, has collaborated with four teacher education associations representing the content areas of math, science, English language arts and social studies education through the National Technology Leadership Initiative.

It marks the third time Lovett has received this national recognition — at MTSU in 2018 with a team that included Dick and McCulloch, on a pilot module for the curriculum before they received funding, and in 2015 while a North Carolina State University graduate student.

“It means a lot to receive this award,” she said. “Not only because our field is valuing the work we are doing with our grant, but more importantly that this paper was led by two graduate students with myself and other professors providing support for them. I’m glad we could give them that experience and for them to see that their work was valued.”

Lovett said the latest endeavor is work the team is accomplishing as a part of their National Science Foundation-funded grant for “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education — Preparing to Teach Mathematics with Technology-Examining Student Practices.” The goal is to design curriculum for undergraduates, who are studying to be high school mathematics teachers, to use in their classes.

“My goal as an educator of future teachers is to teach the undergraduates how to understand how students are working on a math problem,” she said.

“To do so, we teach them to attend to all the things students are saying and doing when solving the problem and then to determine what mathematics the students understand,” she added. “When we use technology to teach math, it is more complicated.”

Helping future math educators grow

Lovett commended the work and effort by Yalman Ozen and the mentorship of the MTSU Mathematics and Science Ph.D. program.

“It is an honor to be recognized for my work, particularly so early on in my program,” said Yalman Ozen, 29, a native of Turkey. “It is overwhelming to think that I will be recognized by the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators and thus the broader community of seasoned researchers in our field. I am fortunate to have brilliant mentors that have supported me through this process.”

Yalman Ozen said their collaboration “took careful planning for the study, great teamwork and patience as we refined our work, and a serious passion for the topic.”

She hopes to be a math department faculty member after graduating, “to teach courses for future teachers and contribute to creating, fostering and sustaining technology-rich teaching and learning environments as a researcher. My ultimate goal is to provide the same kind of mentorship to students that my mentors have provided to me.”

Lovett said one of her graduate research assistant’s main responsibilities is to watch videos of high school students working on the task and pinpoint moments that would be mathematically important for an undergraduate, who is learning to be a teacher, to watch.

“My goal as Demet’s adviser is to help provide opportunities for her to grow professionally so that at the end of her time at MTSU she is ready to enter an academic position as a mathematics educator,” said Lovett, who also mentors doctoral student Samantha Fletcher and other graduate and undergraduate students in the MTeach program. “To do that, I think it is important to provide mentorship on experiences like this with the intent that by the end of her program she is leading others on such efforts.”

MTeach is an MTSU math, science and agriculture teacher preparation program designed to increase the quality and quantity of math and science teachers.

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