Megan Burton, associate professor of elementary education in the College of Education’s Department of Curriculum and Teaching, was recently featured on the acclaimed Reinventing School podcast. The episode was called The Math Equation, and was hosted by Howard Blumenthal, creator and producer of the PBS television series, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? Blumenthall, a Peabody and Emmy Award winner, serves as Senior Scholar at The University of Pennsylvania, studying learning and the lives of 21st-century children and teenagers. He has a long history as a writer and executive at large media companies, and as a CEO of public television and other production companies.
In the podcast, Burton referenced her ten-year career as an elementary mathematics teacher. She explained that in her work at Auburn she seeks to support preservice teachers, students, and teachers and to elevate their voice.
“A huge part of mathematics teaching and learning involves critical thinking, problem solving and making sense of math.,” she said while explaining how it integrates with other subjects, especially in the elementary grades. “Research shows us that children use math at an early age in natural settings. Our challenge is to help prospective teachers understand math and see connections with other subjects as part of students’ learning trajectories. We must know our subject, but we must also know our students and our community.”
A phrase she uses often when working with teachers is “What do your students know, and how do you want to help them grow?”
Burton is president of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, the country’s largest professional organization devoted to the improvement of mathematics teacher education. It includes more than 1,000 members devoted to the preservice education and professional development of K-12 teachers of mathematics.
At Auburn, Burton works with her elementary colleagues to offer a STEM camp for approximately 170 elementary age children every summer. In addition to the above, Burton has experience teaching STEM curriculum internationally to elementary-age students.
The interview with Blumenthall also included John Ewing, a distinguished mathematician who presently serves as president of Math for America, a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 by American billionaire mathematician/philanthropist Jim Simons. Simons’ goal was to promote the recruitment and retention of high-quality mathematics teachers in New York City secondary schools. The program has since expanded to other cities and states.
“The interview was really a lot of fun,” Burton said. “I hope it illuminated the complexities of teaching mathematics in K-12 schools. We discussed how to effectively teach and learn mathematics, the role of math in society, and the integrated nature of mathematics to other subjects and the world. We also discussed the importance of relationships in teaching and building on the strengths of learners.”
Another area explored was how the pandemic has shifted some teaching methods. Burton noted how teachers worked diligently to effectively access and utilize resources during the pandemic.
“In addition, we shared about the amazingly complex and demanding work that teaching always involves. During the pandemic, teachers have been creative and dedicated, with very little support and professional planning time allotted to make these dramatic shifts in supporting learning.”
“Mathematics is important because it is used in so many careers and is utilized in everyday life. It helps us make informed decisions and interpret the world around us. Beyond the content, mathematics is about reasoning, problem-solving, persistence, critical thinking and so much more.”