### Reimagining mathematics teaching: Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy and the path to confidence

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# Reimagining mathematics teaching: Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy and the path to confidence

Mathematics often evokes a sense of dread among students, leading many to believe they simply ‘can’t do mathematics’. Dr Jennifer Holm, a mathematics educator at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, hopes to address this issue through the development of the Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy. This online platform will enhance your teaching methods by providing you with comprehensive resources to deepen your understanding of the mathematics you teach, ultimately creating a more engaging and supportive classroom experience.

Mathematics is often described as the universal language of logic and problem-solving, yet for many students, it is a source of anxiety and distress. This disconnect between the perceived beauty of mathematics and the actual experiences of students in the classroom can be startling. While some may find joy in cracking complex equations and exploring abstract concepts, others struggle with feelings of inadequacy and frustration. The journey from initial curiosity to fear of the subject can be influenced by a range of factors, including teaching methods, societal attitudes and personal experiences.

Dr Jennifer Holm, a mathematics educator at Wilfrid Laurier University, aims to bridge this gap and transform the way mathematics is perceived and taught. Through the Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy, she has developed a series of modules to improve the skills and confidence of those who teach any aspect of mathematics. These resources will provide you with the support you need to help you understand the mathematics you are teaching your students, equipping you with the tools to create a more effective learning environment.

**Understanding the roots of negative attitudes towards mathematics **

Mathematics often triggers anxiety and negative perceptions among students. Early experiences in mathematics lessons, where focus is placed on rote memorisation and rapid problem-solving, can lead students to feel inadequate if they struggle to keep up. This approach, which prioritises speed and correct answers over conceptual understanding, may fail to accommodate diverse learning styles, leading some students to believe they are inherently ‘bad’ at mathematics.

“When I explore why students feel they ‘can’t do mathematics’, I often hear that they can’t remember the formulas, received poor grades, couldn’t finish units fast enough or felt uncomfortable sharing in front of their classmates,” explains Jennifer. “However, when I talk with mathematicians about mathematics, none of these things are important. What is important is understanding the concepts and being able to think and reason about mathematics, often at a slower pace.” These early classroom experiences can have a lasting impact, shaping students’ future attitudes towards mathematics. As a result, many students carry a fear of mathematics into adulthood, avoiding mathematics-related subjects and careers.

**The role of teacher confidence **

Teacher confidence plays a crucial role in mathematics education, directly influencing the effectiveness of instruction and the learning experiences of students. When you, as a teacher, feel confident in your mathematical knowledge and skills, you are more likely to adopt a flexible and exploratory teaching approach. This confidence will allow you to present complex concepts clearly, respond to students’ questions with ease, and create an environment where students feel safe to express their thoughts and make mistakes.

“Teachers who are afraid of or not confident in mathematics can pass this onto their students,” says Jennifer. “They may also perpetuate some of the difficulties with how mathematics is taught (speed drills, focus on memorisation, and over reliance on tests and correct answers) because they cannot teach in any other way.” This lack of confidence can often stem from the teacher’s own negative experiences with mathematics, creating a cycle where past challenges shape current teaching practices. Therefore, building teacher confidence is essential not only for enhancing pedagogical effectiveness but also for cultivating a positive and encouraging classroom atmosphere where all students can engage with mathematics confidently.

**The purpose of mathematics education **

“The purpose of mathematics education should be to educate everyone to be mathematically literate, not to make everyone a mathematician,” explains Jennifer. “This would mean that all individuals in society can use mathematics in their daily lives, including data and financial literacy.” This broad approach ensures that students are not just memorising formulas but are also developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills that are invaluable in all aspects of life. Just as literacy education aims to ensure everyone can read and write, rather than making everyone a novelist, mathematics education should strive to equip all students with the tools they need to understand and use mathematics in practical ways. The primary goal should be to demystify mathematics and empower everyone with a foundational mathematical understanding that supports informed decision-making in a complex world.

**Inequities in mathematics education **

Addressing inequities in mathematics education is crucial for breaking down barriers that limit students’ future opportunities. “Currently, mathematics is a gatekeeper to a lot of future career pathways, so not being able to perform in mathematics keeps students from potential career opportunities,” explains Jennifer. Disparities in access to resources, quality instruction and support can significantly impact students’ mathematical outcomes and future career prospects. These inequities often stem from systemic issues such as underfunded schools, biased curricula and socio-economic factors. To counteract these challenges, educators and policymakers must work to provide equitable access to high-quality mathematics education for all students. This includes implementing inclusive teaching practices, offering targeted support to underserved communities and ensuring that curricula reflect diverse perspectives and real-world mathematical applications.

**Dr Jennifer Holm**Associate Professor, Faculty of Education, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada

**Field of research: **Mathematics education

**Research project: **Developing a platform of resources to increase teachers’ mathematical skills and confidence

**Funders: **This article draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Development Grant, Mitacs Globalink and Wilfrid Laurier University

**Reference**

https://doi.org/10.33424/FUTURUM538

Jennifer has developed an online training platform to help mathematics teachers improve their skills and confidence ©paulaphoto/Shutterstock.com

**A new approach to teacher training**

Jennifer has developed the Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy, which offers a fresh and innovative approach to teacher training in mathematics. “The goal of the Math Academy is to provide teachers with a space to learn the mathematics that they need to teach,” explains Jennifer. Unlike traditional methods that often focus solely on procedural knowledge, the Math Academy emphasises conceptual understanding, using models and reasoning to explain why mathematical procedures work and encouraging you to see novel ways to solve problems without a reliance on formulas. This approach will help you grasp the underlying principles of mathematics, enabling you to teach more effectively and confidently by showing a variety of ways to approach different mathematical problems. By providing a centralised hub of resources, the Math Academy simplifies access to valuable information and mathematical strategies, making it easier for you to find the support you need.

**Why the academy is a game-changer **

The Math Academy provides a structured and accessible platform for educators to deepen their mathematical knowledge. The academy is organised into modules based on key content areas, such as algebra, measurement and fractions. “The modules consist of different mathematical problems to try, such as linear patterns in the algebra module,” explains Jennifer. “Then there is a series of videos showing different ways to solve each problem using different mathematical techniques.”

One of the academy’s innovative features is its use of video-based learning. “In each module, there are general videos to provide an introductory background to the topic,” says Jennifer. “For example, in the measurement module, one of the general videos explains where measurement formulas come from and how they work together. Since video-based learning is becoming increasingly popular (many people just search on YouTube), using this strategy seemed best for the Math Academy.” This format not only caters to the growing trend of digital education, but also allows you to visualise complex concepts through dynamic presentations of manipulatives (any objects, such as counters or blocks, used to show mathematical concepts) and models, rather than static images.

**The distinction between mathematics for teachers and students**

The mathematics that teachers need to learn differs significantly from the mathematics taught to students, as it involves a deeper and broader understanding of the subject. This advanced knowledge includes the ability to identify and address common student misconceptions and difficulties, allowing you to tailor your instruction to the diverse learning needs of your students.

You must also be proficient in multiple problem-solving strategies, enabling you to support students with different ways of thinking. Unlike students, who require efficient methods to solve problems and grasp foundational concepts, teachers must also master pedagogical techniques. This expertise in teaching methods is crucial for facilitating a deep understanding of mathematics, making it accessible and engaging for all students. In essence, while students focus on mastering the content, as a teacher, you must engage with both the content and the most effective ways to communicate and teach it to every student. And it is important to remember that your students may view mathematics through a different lens to you.

**Evaluating and refining the academy’s impact **

To assess the effectiveness of the Math Academy, Jennifer is comparing teachers’ mathematical understanding before and after engaging with the video content. Teachers testing the Math Academy completed mathematical problems before and after learning from the video resources. “I was able to see if new strategies were attempted and if there were more correct answers following the video intervention,” explains Jennifer.

Her research has revealed a need for introductory content that guides teachers to think beyond merely achieving the ‘right’ answer. By encouraging them to explore various problem-solving methods, the Math Academy helps create a more nuanced and flexible approach to teaching mathematics. This emphasis on diverse strategies will not only solidify your own mathematical knowledge but will also equip you to better support your students, creating a more inclusive and effective learning environment.

Dr Elle G. Brayic’s Math Academy

Visit the Math Academy to explore the resources Jennifer has created: www.drellesmathacademy.ca

In this video, Jennifer introduces the rationale behind the Math Academy:

Jennifer’s advice for teachers

• To make mathematics more accessible and relevant, integrate aspects of your students’ cultural backgrounds into your lessons. This approach not only makes the subject more engaging but also helps students see the relevance of mathematics in their daily lives.

• “A focus on data literacy instead of an algebra and calculus pathway will open a lot of doors for your students,” says Jennifer, highlighting the importance of equipping students with mathematical skills that are important in an increasingly data-driven world.

• “Teaching students to understand mathematics using models and manipulatives will support more individuals to be successful in mathematics,” explains Jennifer. “If students understand what is needed when solving a mathematical problem, even if they cannot remember an exact formula or method, they can still reason through the problem and solve it.”

• It is crucial to move away from an emphasis on speed and rigid unit progression, which can leave slower learners behind and create unnecessary stress. Allowing students the time they need to grasp concepts fosters a more inclusive and supportive learning environment. Revisiting concepts through spiralling the curriculum (in which key concepts are repeated throughout the curriculum, but with deepening layers of complexity) can also help slower learners have more time to develop an understanding of mathematics.

• “If you have struggled with mathematics or hated the subject, then it is likely that the way you were taught did not work for you, not that there is anything wrong with your ability to do mathematics,” says Jennifer. “Mathematics is not about memorising procedures and speed working, but a lot of classrooms still focus on these aspects, which does not work for all students.” Therefore, it is important to separate your past challenges from your current teaching. By healing your own mathematical traumas and focusing on student-centred teaching, you can create a positive classroom atmosphere that nurtures all students’ mathematical growth and curiosity.

**Meet Jennifer**

**What inspired you to become a mathematics educator? **

I always wanted to be a teacher, but I was focused on literacy education. During my master’s degree, I took a mathematics course with a mathematics educator, and for the first time in my life I understood mathematics. That was what inspired me to help others understand mathematics and not just be able to compute procedures.

**What did you find most rewarding and challenging about being an elementary school teacher?**

Most rewarding was seeing the growth and development of the children and being able to make a difference for them. The challenging aspects were all the issues beyond my classroom that I could not control, such as a lack of funding and support.

**What do you most enjoy about teaching mathematics to teachers?**

It is so rewarding when, after someone tells me on the first day that they hate mathematics and can’t do it, by the end say they can. It is wonderful when teachers’ feelings about mathematics shift in a positive direction.

**Do you have a question for Jennifer?**

Write it in the comments box below and Jennifer will get back to you. (Remember, researchers are very busy people, so you may have to wait a few days.)

Discover how mathematicians use their skills to solve real-world challenges:

www.futurumcareers.com/how-can-we-unravel-the-complex-history-of-networks

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