Mathematics and Computer Science Department

University of Wisconsin-Superior

Swenson Hall 3030
Belknap and Catlin
P.O. Box 2000
Superior, WI 54880

ph. 715-394-8028

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Mathematics and Computer Science Department

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Math education program offers challenges and rewards

Posted on Jan 5, 2012
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Math education program offers challenges and rewards

Marilyn Toscano has been training future math teachers at UW-Superior for about 20 years, and she has a clear opinion of the type of students who choose that major.

"Wonderful students," she says without hesitation.

Mathematics teaching major

UW-Superior's mathematics teaching major prepares students to teach math to pupils from fifth grade through high school. Dr. Shaun Lynch, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, said the department is looking to encourage enrollment in the program as part of the effort to produce more graduates in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A challenging program

Toscano describes math education as "a fairly hard major." Students must be skillful in math as well as meet challenging teacher education requirements. Each must pass a Praxis exam to gain entry to the program and pass a second Praxis exam to graduate.

In the past five years every student in the program has passed the exit exam on the first attempt.

"Our students know about this and they want to keep up the record," Toscano said. "They study in groups for months in advance."

Students want to teach

Students enter the program because they enjoy the challenges of math and they want to teach. That's a spirit Toscano encourages.

"I like for them to come out of the program with an inclination that all children can learn math," she said.

Students share Toscano's enthusiasm.

"I chose math education as my major because I have always enjoyed math; all the way back to my elementary school days," said Orrin Botten, who's from Poplar, Wis. " Education was something that really interested me during high school because of the impact my teachers had on me. I want to be able to make that sort of impact on people as well."

Working closely with students

Toscano advises all students in the major. She works with them to plan their course schedule for four years and lays out what they need to assemble for the portfolio that demonstrates they've acquired the necessary skills to graduate. She helps them organize their classes and makes sure they understand the requirements they must meet in both her department and the Department of Educational Leadership.

'Teachable minor' also required

Students majoring in math education also must complete a minor in a subject that they can teach. Many choose science, special education or coaching. Students who hope to find jobs teaching in other countries often complete a language minor.

Reaching all pupils

Along with mastering mathematics, students learn teaching methods and strategies for reaching all their pupils. They learn how to teach young people to use logic and become good problem-solvers. Toscano also works with them to build their confidence when they're standing in front of a classroom full of pupils.

As prospective teachers, the students enjoy working with young people.

"The thing I like most about the major is the time spent out in the schools," Botten said. "There are a lot of observation hours required, but it is fun to go out and get experience helping and teaching lessons."

Changing career market

Until recently, school district superintendents were calling Toscano to find candidates to fill jobs. That changed in 2011 as Wisconsin school districts experienced fewer teacher retirements and more job cutbacks. Now, some graduates are finding jobs quickly while others are teaching as long-term substitutes.

However, some graduates "are still being snatched up," Toscano said. That's especially true if they're willing to teach in inner-city schools or in states like Alaska, where many school districts will pay off new a teacher's student loans in exchange for him or her signing a multi-year teaching contract.

More math interest today

Toscano said these days she's seeing more students who are interested in math careers. She credits at least part of that to changes in pop culture; specifically a new generation of movies and TV shows that depict scientists and detectives using math to solve crimes.

"Math is fun," Toscano said. "It's all around you and you'll use it every day. It is so cool - that's one thing I try to bring to my students."


News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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