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Teachers Learn Ways to Inspire Students to Study Math

Source: Rice News, August 22, 1996
By David Kaplan
Rice News Staff

It's a question Reed Intermediate School teacher Judy Woods has heard students ask a hundred times: "Why do I have to study math?"

After attending the seventh annual Mathematical and Computational Sciences Awareness Workshop for K-12 teachers, Woods said she now has some very good answers.

"The message these teachers got is that people are using math to do important and beautiful things for society, and that math is not isolated. It's fundamental," said Richard Tapia, the workshop leader and Rice's Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics.

The July 22-26 workshop is a project of the Center for Research on Parallel Computation (CRPC), a National Science Foundation-funded science and technology center headquartered at Rice University. Fifty participants were told of the latest ideas and trends in mathematical research. The teachers learned about subjects as diverse as artificial intelligence, parallelism and supercomputing. They weren't expected to become experts, however. The program goal was to inspire teachers to go back to their students with enthusiasm for all that math and computational science have to offer.

"It was less about content, and more about awareness and appreciation," said Tapia, who is CRPC's Director of Human Resources and Education. The participants were also told about exciting career opportunities.

Participant Gail Carney, a computer literacy teacher at Aldine's Reed Intermediate School, noted how good it felt to hear Rice graduate students recall how a positive experience with a high school teacher inspired them to pursue math in college. "It reminds you how you're always affecting somebody in some way."

Speakers included CRPC and Rice faculty members, students, visiting scientists and representatives from industry. Minority issues, such as the counseling and teaching of minorities and their career opportunities, were also addressed.

For Woods, a technology specialist at Reed, the workshop served as a "reality check," she commented. "It's given me more sensitivity to the diversity of my students and taught me to do more digging when they're not motivated, to find out why."

On the last two days of the workshop, the participants drove to the Rice School where they each used a computer. They explored math and science sites on the Web and created mock home pages.

"I think [the workshop] was great," said Milby High School mathematics teacher Curtis Daugherty. "Now I can go back and tell my students about all the exciting opportunities in research."

Julia Hamilton, a MacGregor Elementary School kindergarten teacher, came out of the workshop convinced that her 6-year-olds are ready to consider careers in math or science. "I've already asked two of the speakers we heard to come to my class and talk to my students," Hamilton said. "I'm also thinking of bringing them on a field trip to Rice. Many of these inner-city kids have never seen a university before."

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