Club helps ISU students to be better teachers, contributes to STEM education

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Club members, from left, math faculty member Xuan Hien Nguyen, students Abigail Higgins, Mekayla Reints, Christian Lopez and Amanda Raysby, and faculty member Heather Bolles.

An Iowa State University student organization called Math Club for Future Teachers is helping mathematics education students like Kelly Chizek, who hopes to soon begin her career as a math teacher.

Chizek, a senior who is student teaching this spring, was an active participant in the group last semester. She said the club is a great opportunity for students to develop techniques to become better classroom teachers.

In 2012, a group of faculty in the Mathematics Department was searching for ways to give students opportunities to develop their teaching skills to supplement classroom work and to build a stronger community among the math education students.

Math Club for Future Teachers allows students to work in small groups to solve mathematical problems, brainstorm teaching tactics for the classroom and develop their teaching styles. Chizek said she was pushed to go beyond problem solving and begin thinking from a teacher’s standpoint about what students in her future classroom could learn from each problem.

“It got me to start thinking about activities, questions and challenges that I will need to provide for or address with my students,” said Chizek, who recommends the group to students who are interested in teaching math.

“I really liked being challenged to think about how students will approach problems and what difficulties they might encounter,” she said. “Nothing can fully prepare you for teaching, but this is a great starting point.”

Heather Bolles, senior lecturer and adviser in mathematics, said the out-of-classroom experience is impactful and necessary for students who are striving to become teachers.

“We have a mix of seniors who are well into their classes and also several freshmen who are just beginning the program, and it offers benefits for both. It’s a fun atmosphere for problem solving, which can be a nice break from the intensity of a classroom setting. We also tie together what they might be teaching in high schools, to what they are learning right now in college,” said Bolles.

The club also contributes to Iowa State’s efforts to promote and improve STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) initiatives and education in Iowa.

The group meets monthly to discuss different problems and problem-solving skills and also to build a network among the math education students. Meetings began last spring and have averaged about 10 students each time.

Xuan Hien Nguyen, assistant professor of mathematics and co-founder of the club, said she wants to ensure her students will be prepared for their careers after graduation.

“Our main objectives are to promote mathematical curiosity and to engage future teachers with exploratory activities connecting the mathematics learned in the classroom to broader ideas. It also serves as a place for students to meet their classmates and get support.”

Nguyen added that club is a good platform for involving and retaining female students in the Department of Mathematics.

The next club meeting is Feb. 19 at 4:10 p.m. in Carver 400.

The Department of Mathematics is an academic unit in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ISU. -30-

About Liberal Arts and Sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a world-class learning and research community. Iowa State’s most academically diverse college, LAS educates students to become global citizens, providing rigorous academic programs in the sciences, humanities and social sciences within a supportive personalized learning environment. College faculty design new materials, unravel biological structures, care for the environment, and explore social and behavioral issues. From fundamental research to technology transfer and artistic expression, the college supports people in Iowa and around the world.

NEWS RELEASE College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Iowa State University Contacts: Xuan Hien Nguyen, Mathematics, (515) 294-1752, Heather Bolles, Mathematics, (515) 294-8465, Katherine Marcheski, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, Steve Jones, Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications, (515) 294-0461,