SIUE math professors hope teachers circle rekindles love for mathematics

SIUE professors Adam Weyhaupt and Tammy Voepel and Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics director Sharon Locke want to remind area middle school teachers that math can still be fun.

Area math teachers from the Middle and High School levels attend the Great Rivers Math Teachers' Circle hosted by the SIUE Mathematics Department and STEM Center. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Voepel)

The math professors partnered with SIUE’s STEM Education Center for Research to create the Great Rivers’ Math Teachers’ Circle. Sharon Andre of Liberty Middle School and Annamary King of Cahokia High School also helped organize the monthly event, where the group creates a casual, enjoyable environment for local math instructors to network and enjoy math. The group is scheduled to meet on Thursday at the Main Street Community Center in Edwardsville.

Instructors will also solve fun, but challenging math problems and a light dinner will be provided.

“Mathematics is inherently fun,” Weyhaupt said. “Many middle school mathematics teachers were good at, and enjoyed, mathematics.  Once they become practicing teachers, however, they don’t get a chance to do mathematics for their own sake.  Like parents that never spend any time on themselves, teachers that never spend time enjoying mathematics for themselves can quickly wear out.  We hope to reinvigorate the love of mathematics.”

Voepel said that math teachers at the middle and high school level will often implement the same lesson plans and don’t have the opportunity to challenge themselves with other types of math. The teachers will also learn group work and how to make lessons easier for their students. SIUE’s math circle is part of a national movement by the Math Teachers’ Circle Network to build a casual, professional development communities for math teachers.

“Our goal is not change what they teach or influence what they teach; really our primary goal is to get them to think about why they decided to teach math to begin with,” Voepel said. “And it’s usually because they had a very positive experience in the math classroom, or they really enjoy math or they like doing math problems or puzzles. That’s what we want to remind them of. So often in the classroom they might get overwhelmed by the types of math that they are doing in there, they forget why they really enjoy doing math. So this gives them the opportunity to solve fun math problems, to struggle a little bit, maybe to put themselves in their students’ positions about ways to approach problems.”

The Great Rivers’ Circle held its first meeting in February. Last summer, Weyhaupt and Voepel attended training sponsored by the American Institute of Mathematics at the Mathematical Association of America headquarters in Washington D.C. During the one-week training, the professors participated in various math circles and also learned how to plan circle activities.

The math circle holds special importance for Voepel, who works closely with SIUE’s math education program and trains prospective undergraduate teachers. Currently about 10 middle and high school math teachers of varying experience levels regularly attend the meetings.

SIUE Math professor Adam Weyhaupt (right) presents a math problem at the Teacher's Circle meeting in February. (Photo courtesy of Tammy Voepel)

“We didn’t want to put them in a classroom environment,” Voepel said. “We don’t want this to be seen as we are teaching them or that they’re coming to class or it’s professional development. Truly this is supposed to be a math spa — It’s their entertainment, their enjoyment, their relaxation time.”

Weyhaupt said he would like to draw about 20-25 teachers and draw teachers from across the St. Louis area. Interested teachers must R.S.V.P. online to attend.

“From previous experience working with teacher professional development, it was clear that teachers valued an opportunity to actually do mathematics,” Weyhaupt said. “Too often, their professional development is focused on testing, pedagogy, or administration.  While those topics are valuable, I think they get so much exposure to them that they crave mathematics.  I also believe it’s important to expose everyone — students, teachers, and the public in general — to what mathematics really is.  Some people feel that mathematics is synonymous with algebra or arithmetic, but there are so many interesting questions out there.”

For more information about the Great Rivers Math Teachers’ Circle visit or call Voepel at 618-650-2343.

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