Summer math research benefits both student and teacher

When planning for her summer activities, Kathryn Bruhns ’16 of Oak Park, Illinois, hoped to do research at a different college. She approached Andrea Young, assistant professor of mathematical sciences and chair of the department, for a letter of recommendation.

When Bruhns found out she did not get into the program she had applied for, she was “bummed,” she said. But Young offered a solution. She asked Bruhns to work with her over the summer, and the rest is history — or rather math.

Bruhns and Young have designed a series of lessons for calculus class that incorporate direct embodiment, a psychology theory that states students are able to grasp concepts better when they are moving their bodies.

“Students will use their bodies to act the math concepts they are learning about,” Bruhns says. The hope is that this new learning technique will help students have a better understanding of calculus.

The summer research opportunity worked out well, Bruhns says. “I think it has been a really good experience, and Professor Young wouldn’t have been able to design all these lessons (by herself) this summer. I got the experience of summer research and she got the help she needed, so it all worked out for the best.”

Through her summer research, Bruhns says she has been learning educational strategies that she hopes she can one day incorporate into her own classroom. “I want to be a math teacher in either high school or middle school, and I am learning about different educational strategies,” she says.

Young has started implementing these strategies into her classroom this semester. “We have only done one of the activities, so it may be too soon to say,” Young says. “My initial impression is that students were engaged in the learning process, and that had a somewhat deeper understanding of the day’s lesson than in previous semesters. But I do not have any real evidence to support that, yet.”

Young believes the future is bright for her and Bruhns’ research. “We have already submitted a paper for publication,” she says. “That paper involved the use of chalkboard paint as a mathematical teaching tool. We intend to submit the results of this study for publication in a mathematics education journal.”

Lauren Hince ’18
Blaine, Minnesota

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Kathryn Bruhns