Amy Ellis, an associate professor in the College of Education, aims to improve math education through the instruction she provides to pre-service teachers, through her research, and through partnerships with local schools.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Ph.D. through the University of California San Diego/San Diego State University joint doctoral program in mathematics and science education. I earned my master’s degree in mathematics at San José State University and my bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a minor in Japanese from Washington University in St. Louis.
I am currently an associate professor in the department of mathematics and science education in the College of Education. My responsibilities include teaching undergraduate and graduate students in the mathematics education programs and conducting research on the teaching and learning of mathematics.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in the fall of 2016. I was drawn to UGA because its mathematics education program is nationally and internationally recognized as one of the leading programs in the field. I was excited to join a group of faculty who have established pioneering research agendas, and I also was attracted to the department’s robust doctoral program, which supports students from across the country and around the globe.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I love teaching both graduate students and undergraduates. It’s exciting to see doctoral students grow in their understanding of theory and research methods, and I also enjoy working with pre-service mathematics teachers who are just beginning their programs. One of my favorite courses is problem solving in mathematics, which addresses the teaching and learning of problem solving.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
One of the things I have enjoyed during my past year at UGA has been the opportunity to work with our talented group of graduate students. In addition to formally supporting doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars on my research projects, I also have been privileged to work with a set of graduate students who have volunteered their time on my projects. I have learned a lot from our students and have enjoyed getting to know them.
How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?
I study adolescent student reasoning, particularly as it relates to algebra, generalization and proof, as well as teachers’ pedagogical practices aimed at fostering meaningful student engagement. In my research, I investigate how reasoning with quantities—which are attributes people can measure, such as distance, time, temperature, steepness or speed—supports students’ understanding of big ideas in algebra. My research team and I have developed multiple instructional units that we regularly test and refine in teaching experiments with middle school and high school students. We also have shared these units with practicing middle school teachers and have partnered with local schools to help teachers implement the units in their own classrooms.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
I teach in the undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs, and so almost all of my course material is related to my research on helping students learn and helping teachers support their own students’ learning. My teaching also allows me to remain connected to current issues in local schools and inspires new ideas for research.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
My goal is for my students to learn how to think about mathematics differently and to think about teaching and learning differently. I want my students to begin to question their own prior experiences and to see that there are better ways to understand, learn and teach mathematics.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is curious, engaged, motivated and hard working.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I enjoy the trails and woods around Lake Herrick; it’s beautiful there every time of year, and there are a lot of great running paths!
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Travel, hike, run, read and cook. I’ve enjoyed exploring the local hiking around Georgia, and one of my favorite hikes is Tallulah Gorge. I’m also getting ready to participate in a 200-mile relay race from Mt. Hood to the Oregon coast. When I’m at home, I enjoy learning about horology, which is the art of clock making. I am currently making a working clock out of paper.
Community/civic involvement includes….
As the parent of twins, I enjoy volunteering in their school and in other schools in the Clarke County School District.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
I love to read novels, and it’s hard to pin down just one favorite! I enjoy classic novels by authors such as Jane Austen, E.M. Forster and the Brontë sisters, as well as more modern literature by authors such as Toni Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez, Barbara Kingsolver and Isabel Allende. One of my all-time favorite books is “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving.
The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…
I recently participated in a question and answer session for the secondary mathematics program. Listening to the current and former students describe their experiences in the program and their reasons for joining it is something I will never forget. These young scholars and teachers shared their commitment to serving their communities and supporting the growth of children and adolescents, and they discussed all that they had learned during their time at UGA. I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness and maturity of our students and felt proud to be part of UGA.