Athens, Ga. – A University of Georgia mathematics professor known for her efforts to revolutionize math education is the recipient of the Association for Women in Mathematics’ annual Louise Hay Award.
Sybilla Beckmann, a 2011 Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, will receive the award in a January 2014 ceremony. The honor recognizes outstanding achievements in any area of mathematics education.
“Math can be approached in such a different way than is typical in math teaching and learning,” Beckmann said. “I would love for everyone to appreciate how beautiful and neat mathematical reasoning is. Mathematical ideas can be as exquisite and profound as any of the great achievements in music, literature, or art.
“My special passion is for teacher education because it matters how teachers approach math and it matters that teachers know the math they will teach deeply, and from a teaching perspective.”
Beckmann uses her passion for math to help prospective teachers approach the subject in a different way. Her textbook, “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers,” is now a standard text for teachers in training. She created and is the director of the Mathematicians Educating Future Teachers program as part of a National Science Foundation Vertical Integration of Research and Education grant to the UGA department of mathematics.
She also was a writer of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ curriculum focal point for pre-kindergarten through grade eight and played a significant role in writing the common core state standards for mathematics.
Helping encourage more women to go into mathematics is important for society, she said. But Beckmann believes all students can benefit from the analytical, problem-solving skillset that is a result of learning math.
“I think we need to engage students in thinking about mathematical ideas and making sense of them,” she said. “We need to help students see that they can expand their thinking by trying out solution methods and discussing these methods with peers, by a willingness to struggle with problems and grapple with ideas. There’s really nothing better than a classroom of students thinking together about math.”
Her overall goal, she said, is to make sure all students garner a better understanding of math. That goal requires well-trained teachers with a passion for the subject matter.
“I also feel strongly that we need to think in a different way about the mathematics teaching profession,” she added. “First, all of us who teach math, all levels, should take collective responsibility for and ownership of the profession. Also, we need better ways to engage collectively in building and vetting knowledge about mathematics teaching.”
Beckmann has won several teaching awards, including the General Sandy Beaver Teaching Professorship awarded by the Franklin College, the Josiah Meigs Distinguished Teaching professorship and the Regents’ Teaching Award from the University System of Georgia.
For information on the UGA department of mathematics, see www.math.uga.edu.