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Monday, June 10, 2019

PhD grad aims to make mathematics meaningful, not magical | School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences - Arizona State University

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Matt Weber had earned his master’s degree and knew he enjoyed education and teaching but was feeling suffocated at his job. He was the only full-time mathematics faculty at a small college in Utah, inform Rhonda Olson, Manager of Marketing and Communication, School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Matt Weber defends his dissertation for a PhD in Mathematics Education entitled: Investigating the Advancement of Middle School Mathematics Teachers' Meanings for Partitive Division by Fractional Values of Quantities
There were no other math colleagues to interact with, and he wasn’t experiencing much professional growth. 

“I felt a little bit like an eagle inside a cage,” Weber remembered. “I needed to spread my wings and my current job was not letting me do that.”

He applied for the PhD program in mathematics education at the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at Arizona State University. He had heard of Pat Thompson and Marilyn Carlson, two well-recognized names in the field of mathematics education who had built the successful program at ASU.

A grant from the Arizona Mathematics Partnership (AMP) funded him as a research associate. AMP is part of a $9 million program funded by the National Science Foundation, conceived by principal investigator and ASU alumna April Strom.

AMP focused on professional development for middle school mathematics teachers. AMP also produced research to help understand teachers’ and students’ mathematical thinking and beliefs. Over 13,000 Arizona students were impacted by the AMP program...

Part of Weber’s research involvement with AMP included interviewing teachers and investigating what they understood about ideas related to multiplication and division, proportionality and measurement.

“That’s ultimately what paved the way for my dissertation. I remember the day when we had an epiphany. We gave a task to the teachers and a certain thing kept occurring. They were changing their way of thinking about division depending on the divisor.

"If it was a whole number, they drew one picture. But if it was a fraction, they drew a different picture. They didn’t realize they switched from partitive to quotative division. They didn’t even realize that was two different ways to think about division.”
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Source: Arizona State University