A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Chicago, found what Eric Stade, professor and chair of CU-Boulder’s Department of Mathematics, has long understood: elementary school teachers who are not confident about their own math skills often pass their fears along to their students.
According to Beilock’s study, this is particularly true of female teachers and the girls they teach. "Young students tend to model themselves after adults of the same sex, and having a female teacher who is anxious about math may reinforce the stereotype that boys are better at math than girls," she says, calling for more care to be taken to develop both strong math skills and positive math attitudes among elementary school educators.
Stade has been on this mission for many years. He teaches a course entitled "Spirit and Uses of Mathematics" designed for prospective elementary school teachers. It is often the only math course future elementary teachers will take at the university. Unfortunately, many of these future teachers do not feel they are strong in mathematics, and this is a last chance to help them gain the confidence and skills necessary to inspire their own students in the subject. "Service learning," he says, "provides a perfect opportunity for these future teachers to become more self-possessed, improve their own understanding of mathematics and provide an important resource of local teacher and students."
Since 2006, he has involved his Spirit and Uses students in a service learning project dubbed "A Community of Mathematics Teachers and Learners (CMTL)," which serves three Boulder Valley Elementary Schools: Escuela Bilingue Pioneer, Boulder Community School of Integrated Studies and Whittier Elementary. His students serve as in-class math learning aides, conduct weekly after-school and in-school math workshops for Talented and Gifted students, offer "Math Night" activities and provide tutoring.
Stade says CMTL offers invaluable teaching experience to the future teachers, while building their confidence and skill. "It also brings much-needed resources to the schools, he says.
The CMTL program is funded by the CU-Boulder Outreach Committee.