Category Archives: Current Spotlight

Dr. Monica Gonzalez

Dr. Monica Gonzalez

1. Given your recent move from Houston, Texas, are you experiencing any culture shock here in Greenville, NC? What is your favorite thing about Houston, Texas? Is there any substitute for that in Greenville?

I moved from one southern state to another, so I have experienced the same level of hospitality and friendliness.  The biggest shock for me was not having as many options for shopping and eating out.  I really miss the restaurants in Houston.  Since Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the nation, I was able to eat cuisines from all over the world.  I have found a few restaurants in the Greenville area that are amazing, such as Villa Verde and Anchalee, and I am continuing to explore more.


2. What are the three (four or five) most important lessons you learned as a mathematics teacher?

  • Not every student will think about and solve mathematics problems in the same way, and that’s ok!
  • Getting students to talk during mathematics class can be beneficial to everyone in the class.  They can learn from one another, question each other’s ideas, defend their own ideas, and build a common understanding of the task.
  • English proficiency is not the same as mathematics proficiency.  Students can learn both at the same time and be very successful!
    Fast does not mean best.
  • There are multiple ways for students to be “smart” at mathematics.


3. What are the three (four or five) most important lessons you learned as a school administrator?

  • The teacher is the number one factor in a student’s academic success.  Continuous professional development for teachers that are relevant and accompanied with timely feedback will help the teacher be successful, which in turn helps the students be successful.
  • Ability oriented thinking about teachers, students, and parents helps to frame situations differently, especially in difficult circumstances.
  • Timely communication is very important.
  • Spending time with students is the most rewarding part of the day.


4. What is the purpose of the Community for Advancing Discovery Research in Education (CADRE)?  What are some of the activities in which you engaged as a CADRE fellow?  How did you benefit from participating in those activities?

CADRE is a network for STEM education researchers funded by the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) program.  CADRE connects these researchers who are endeavoring to improve STEM education in and outside our schools.  The CADRE fellowship is a DRK-12 funded program that is designed as a capacity building experience for early career researchers and developers.

As a CADRE fellow, I had the opportunity to work directly with NSF program officers to engage in a facilitated mock proposal review session.  I also built relationships with researchers in the field that I continue to keep in contact with.  I also received guidance on career opportunities, publishing, and grant writing.  This benefited me by having a built in support system during the job search process, having peers provide feedback on my writing, and having some background knowledge on submitting a DRK-12 proposal.


5. In light of your research and teaching experience, what instructional practices foster development of a positive mathematical identity?

  • Encouraging all students to actively participate during class.
  • Developing a classroom environment in which collaboration and risk taking are encouraged and rewarded.
    Celebrate mistakes and incorrect answers as sources for learning.
  • Holding high expectations of all students.
  • Picking or designing tasks that promote student persistence and reasoning during problem solving.


6. How can teachers and parents excite children about mathematics?

Teachers can design mathematics instruction that is interactive, complex, and connected to students’ lives.  This will encourage students to engage in discussions, collaborate, model, and make connections.

Parents can encourage their children to use mental math and describe their methods. They can even make this into a game to see if multiple mental math strategies can be developed. Math can also be integrated into lots of daily activities such as shopping, cooking, driving, and watching sports.


7. Why is equitable teaching of special importance to you?  What instructional practices favor equitable teaching?  How do you plan to help students in mathematics education develop equitable teaching practices?

Teachers are the number one determinant of students’ academic success, which positions teachers as very powerful. When these teachers deliberately choose to teach in ways that acknowledge and address factors that contribute to differential outcomes among groups of students, then they ensure that all students routinely have opportunities to experience high quality instruction and receive the support necessary to be successful.

Some equitable mathematics teaching practices include:

  1. Going deep with the mathematics
  2. Leveraging multiple mathematics competencies
  3. Affirming learners’ mathematics identities
  4. Challenging spaces of marginality
  5. Drawing on multiple resources of knowledge

I will provide my teacher candidates with opportunities to reflect on their own identities as mathematics learners and teachers in order for them to articulate their visions of high quality equitable mathematics instruction. I will then design performance assessments in order to evaluate and provide specific feedback on their development of high leverage teaching practices. My goal is for my teacher candidates to enter their first year of teaching ready to teach every student high quality mathematics.

Dr. Ya-Huei Lu

Ya-Huei Lu

1. What were 2-3 of your most important learning experiences?  Why were they so important?

One of my most important learning experiences was learning English during summer camps in Cambridge, England. Even though I started learning English when I was 8 years old in Taiwan, there were not many opportunities for me to communicate with native speakers. My parents decided to send me to these summer camps for two summers during my junior and senior year in high school. These experiences were so important to me because they really opened my eyes and helped me learn how to communicate with native English speakers without the fear of making mistakes.

Another important learning experience I had was learning to teach American undergraduates. Before entering my doctoral program at Indiana University, Bloomington in 2011 and working as an instructor teaching preservice teachers, I had never had any experience teaching college students. This experience was so important to me because it completely changed my career goal from being a teacher to wanting to become a “teacher of teachers”.


2. What were 2-3 of your favorite learning experiences?

The two most important learning experiences I discussed before, were also my favorite learning experiences. Learning English can be very challenging and boring if that learning is not also connected to real life experiences. Luckily, my parents sent me to Cambridge summer camps which really helped expand my ways of learning English.  Speaking English with native speakers made the learning more authentic, and I was able to learn better through these types of real-world experiences.

Learning to be a “teacher of teachers” was also one of my favorite learning experience. The experience of working with preservice teachers and helping them learn to teach has been very rewarding for me. As a teacher of teachers, I wanted my students to enjoy learning about new technology, even though this process can be challenging at times. Therefore, it has always been very important for me to make students feel like they can succeed in my classroom, and also to turn those feelings of confidence into knowledge they can apply to their teaching practices in the future.


3. What was the purpose of your doctoral dissertation?  What data did you collect to answer the research questions or address the hypotheses?  What are the key results and implications of your research?

The purpose of my doctoral dissertation was to gain a better understanding of how a beginning elementary teacher conceptualized technology integration and the degree to which technology can be infused in her pedagogy during her first two years of teaching. The research questions were addressed through an intrinsic case study design. I collected data from multiple interviews with the teacher, classroom observations, and documents, such as lesson plans, class materials, sources related to the observed lessons, and the school website.

I found that the teacher’s beliefs and practices about technology were heavily influenced by the external factors such as school culture and resources, mentor, and classroom setting. This implies that in addition to making sure teachers and students have access to technology, it is vitally important to create a school culture where beginning teachers can learn to select and utilize the technology that matches their students’ needs.


4. Through research, what do you want to discover next?

My research, teaching, and service are mutually supportive of my scholarly goal: to help teachers effectively use educational technology to support teaching and learning. This research interest began after my initial experience teaching in the teacher education program. I spent five years teaching introductory technology courses, as well as supervising student teachers. I watched them experience success with technology when they were in their teacher education program, but then witnessed their struggles with technology integration when they needed to apply what they learned in their student teaching. Therefore, I want to find ways to support these beginning teachers and help them discover and integrate technology into various subject areas, to foster learning, and to prepare students for their future.


5. What excites you about teacher preparation?

As stated before, I really enjoy being a “teacher of teachers” because it allows me to collaborate with different groups of educators. I recognize that the trajectory of becoming a teacher is a complex, challenging, and overwhelming experience. I consider my role as a teacher educator to plant seeds of interest and confidence in using technology in the classroom. I have been helping to plant and sprout these seeds with promising future teachers for the past five years. I plan to continue to devote myself to teacher education and I enjoy watching my students grow and become tech-savvy teachers.


6. What should all teachers know about instructional technology?

Teachers should know that instructional technology is a tool, like pencils, papers, and boards in the classroom. Technology is also a catalyst for pedagogical change. Technology in the classroom is not going to replace a teacher. It is a tool that teachers can use to expand students’ authentic, real-world learning experiences.


7. What differences do you find between Greenville, NC, and Taipei, Taiwan?  What do you regard as favorable about each city?

Living in Greenville, NC and Taipei, Taiwan are totally different experiences. Here are some of the main differences. First, Taipei is the national capital of Taiwan, and it has an estimated population of 2.7 million people. Therefore, as you can imagine, it is very busy and crowded, whereas things are much calmer and slower in Greenville. Second, the cost of a house is way too high in Taipei; it has one of the most expensive housing prices in the world. If I worked as a professor in Taipei, I could not afford to buy an apartment. Living quality is so much better and more comfortable in Greenville; indeed, there are many beautiful and affordable houses around the city. Third, traffic in Taipei is so congested and people can’t afford to buy a parking space in the city, so Taipei has one of the best Mass Rapid Transit systems (MRT) which you can take anywhere you want to go. In Greenville, you get around with your own car without worrying about finding a parking space. Fourth, you can get almost any service you need in a convenience store at every corner in Taipei (and almost every city in Taiwan). The things you can do at convenience stores in Taiwan are not simply the “in and out” shopping you are accustomed to in Greenville. Not only can you get the most basic items of necessity alongside snacks and beverages, you can also get your phone and gas bills paid, as well as purchase a variety of tickets (e.g. train tickets, concert tickets). Convenience stores in Taiwan also serve as secondary postal stations, acting as repositories for packages of goods purchased online. In Greenville, or I should say in the U.S., you get almost all the services online without many travels. Lastly, since there are different night markets located in each district in Taipei, you can get vendor food from night markets. These vendor foods are cheap, clean and super yummy!

I actually love living in both cities. I can’t really tell which one I like better, especially since I have only been living in Greenville since last July. My favorite part about living in Greenville is that it is a friendly and laid-back place. I am not a city person, even though I grew up in a big city. People here are super nice to each other and I enjoy being a part of a genuine community. It is really weird and hard to start a conversation with strangers when living in a big city like Taipei. I also really enjoy having lots of space, trees and fresh air, which I never had when I lived in a big city.

The thing I miss the most about living in Taipei is how convenient it is. As I mentioned before, you can easily get anything you need from a convenience store nearby your house or get food from a night market, even after midnight.  I miss the times when I could just walk for a couple minutes, when hungry, to get yummy foods from a convenience store or a night market, even after midnight. Another thing I miss are the hot springs in Taipei. I especially miss them during the winter!

Dr. Tammy Lee

Dr. Tammy Lee

Dr. Tammy Lee replies to questions about Science and Science Education.

1. Do you have a favorite field of study within science?

My favorite field of study is learning about our natural world.   Understanding our natural world involves all fields of science (physics, biology, chemistry, and earth science). We, human beings, have divided the sciences into separate fields for the purpose of study, but to understand the natural world, all the sciences collectively shape our understanding.


2. What are your favorite places on earth?  What makes them special?

I have many favorite places on earth. It is hard to choose. I love nature and being outside. My family and I go camping all through the year. We love visiting different state and national parks. I think it is very important to save natural areas to preserve them for exploration in future generations and to appreciate them. One of my favorite places to visit is our North Carolina Mountains. Whenever I am in the mountains, I like to hike to a flowing stream, find a huge rock, sit and enjoy the sounds of rushing water, watching whirligig beetles, and dragonfly larva swim by me. AWWWW perfect.


3. What are your favorite places to contemplate beyond earth?  

I like earth. I have not thought about going beyond it. I think space travel is extremely interesting and we have benefited in so many ways from traveling to space. But I do not have an interest in adventuring beyond our planet.

Do you believe that one day you will travel beyond earth’s atmosphere? No.


4. Do you regard ecosystems as fragile?  Why or why not?

Ecosystems are ever changing. Ecosystems are constantly changing due to natural and manmade influences. As one example, this past summer, I took a group of beginning teachers (ECU alumni) to the NC Mountains to study the ecological area of Mount Mitchell. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi. At the top of Mt Mitchell is the natural habitat of the evergreen Frasier fir. What most people recognize as a “Christmas Tree.” The mature Frasier Firs have been almost completely killed off by a non-native insect called the Balsam woolly adelgid. Since these insects are invasive the Frasier Fir have not evolved a defense to them. Also, the high elevations of Mt Mitchell have exposed the Frasier Fir and other plant life to air pollution in the form of acid rain, snow, and fog as a result of coal industries in the area. The attack of the invasive species of the adelgid and pollution from coal plants are just two examples of how natural and manmade influences are changing the high elevation ecosystem of the NC Mountains. The pollution problem is improving due to regulations that have been put in place. Trying to find a solution to the invasive species problem is complex and may not be solved. But over time the changes will result in a transformed ecosystem with hopefully, something just as beautiful as the Frasier Fir.


5. With respect to science education, what was the purpose of your doctoral dissertation?  

My dissertation focused on two areas. The first part of my dissertation focused on elementary in-service and pre-service teachers’ knowledge of systems thinking within the context of the water cycle. Systems thinking is a way of thinking about systems such as the water cycle or ecosystems which focuses on the interactions and relationships that occur within and among the systems. The water cycle, ecosystems, and moon phases are examples of systems that are a part of national and state elementary science curricula. The second part of my dissertation focused on selecting and using visual models to teach with a systems thinking approach. My research questions were centered around what visual models would elementary in-service and pre-service teachers select when teaching about the water cycle and then how they would use them in a lesson.

What methods did you use in seeking to attain the goals of the work?  

I used a mixed methods approach that involved content knowledge tests, surveys, a card-sort task, and interviews.

What conclusions did you draw and what are their implications for science education?

I found that teachers had difficulty applying systems thinking skills within the context of a specific system (water cycle). The implications could result in a lack of complexity in instruction when teaching about natural and manmade systems in science curricula. To help with this issue, we have implemented a systems thinking approach in our content courses of the Elementary Science Concentration (ESC). My research start up grant is also focused on working with ESC alumni on creating ecological systems thinking units.

I also found that when teachers select diagrams to teach the water cycle, their discussion of how to use diagrams in instruction tends to be more teacher centered, but when photographs are selected, teachers discuss using a more student-centered approach. The implications of these findings are important because elementary school teachers act in the role of instructional designers. Again, to help address this concern in our teacher preparation courses, we have implemented assignments in which students select and use visual and physical models to promote science discourse. Also, within my research start up grant, we are working on creating virtual field trips based on field experiences in the NC Mountains.


6. What do you hope graduates of science education programs at ECU will accomplish?

When we started the Elementary Science Concentration (ESC) we hoped to create an army of elementary school teachers that had a passion and love for science and science teaching. This passion would motivate them to become leaders in science for their schools and in the future for their districts, state, and the nation. I have been lucky enough to continue working with many of the graduates from the ESC over the past few years. During this time I have seen them grow as science teachers and become leaders in science at each level.

As a science educator, what knowledge, skills, and attitudes are you helping students acquire, which will help them accomplish those goals?

Teaching elementary science involves acquisition of specialized knowledge and skills, which our students gain in a supportive environment that allows students to develop a curiosity about the world around them. I believe content knowledge is important for teaching elementary science, but more importantly, you must have an interest and passion for the subject.


7. What STEM and science education projects are you pursuing today?

Currently, I am working on several projects. We have been investigating how to increase pre-service teachers’ science discourse when using modeling in science instruction. We are also working on creating virtual reality field trips based on our field experience in the NC Mountains and this upcoming summer we are offering our first study abroad graduate course in Costa Rica. This course is focused on using a systems thinking approach to teaching about climate change.


In the mountains, among friends, students, and Frasier Firs.

Science Ed Expedition to NC Mountains


Science Ed Expedition to North Carolina Mountains

Remembering Floyd Mattheis

Dr. Floyd Mattheis

MSITE mourns the unexpected passing of Dr. Floyd Elliott Mattheis, 85, on Friday, September 1, 2017.

After graduating from Ellendale High School in 1949 and State Normal and Industrial College in 1952, Floyd was drafted into the United States Army.  He served full-time till June 1954 and then served as a reservist until August 1960.  After full-time military service, Floyd dedicated his professional life to teaching and learning. In 1954 he started teaching science and mathematics at Granite Falls High School in Granite Falls, Minnesota.  In the summers of 1956 through 1958 Floyd completed graduate work at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.  Building on that work, Floyd earned the Master of Education degree in May 1959 and the Doctor of Education degree in 1962, both from  the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Floyd remained a doctoral student while working in the Science Department as an Assistant Professor here at East Carolina College, which is now East Carolina University.  In 1963 Floyd earned promotion to Associate Professor of Science Education and in 1966 was promoted to Professor of Science Education.  Floyd also became Chairman of the Department of Science Education for 19 years (1966-1985).

Floyd was very successful in acquiring grant funds, including personnel preparation funds to improve the quality of science teaching in North Carolina.  While teaching and conducting research at ECU, Floyd helped organize the North Carolina Science Teachers Association and also served on national associations of science teachers, including service on the Board of Directors of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and service as President of the Association for the Education of Teachers of Science (AETS).

Floyd’s impact extended beyond this country’s borders.  With grant funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Floyd took 10 ECU students to Hyderabad, India, to participate in a Solar Eclipse Expedition and, with additional funds from the NSF, worked subsequently with teachers and science educators in India. Later, invited by the Sony Foundation for Science Education, Floyd visited schools in Japan.  Further, also with funds from the NSF, Floyd conducted cooperative research with Japanese science educators.  

After several presentations at state, regional, national, and international conferences, including cities in England, India, Japan, China, Singapore, and the Philippines, plus numerous additional scholarly contributions, and well before his retirement from ECU, Floyd received the Distinguished Service to Science Education Award from NSTA (1991) and  NSTA’s highest award – The Robert Carleton Award (1996).

After 51 years of work in science education at ECU, including service from 1985-2011 as Director of the Summer Ventures program in our department, Floyd retired in December of 2011 at 80 years of age.  We in MSITE remember his jovial spirit and incredible contributions.

One of Floyd’s hobbies was chasing total solar eclipses – he saw 12 of them, including the one August 21, 2017.

Additional details about Floyd’s life are available at this web page, which provided source material for this tribute.

Introducing Dr. Len Annetta

Len Annetta

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Len Annetta, Taft Distinguished Professor of Science Education, to MSITE and to introduce him to you.  Dr. Annetta has worked as a High School Science Teacher in Maryland, an Assistant and Associate Professor at NC State, and an Associate Professor and Professor at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA).  He has held multiple leadership positions over decades, providing service as an academic coordinator, Director, Chair of Special Interest groups in educational technology, as well as serving as the Executive Director of the Institute for Modeling, Simulations, and Serious Games Research at George Mason University.  Dr. Annetta continues his leadership as the Taft Distinguished Professor of Science Education here at ECU.  We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Annetta.  To learn more about him, we asked Dr. Annetta a few questions about North Carolina, Science Education, Educational Technology, and a question about his hobbies.  We invite you to read his replies.

  1. What interests you about ECU and North Carolina?

I always had an admiration for ECU’s commitment to online teaching and learning and instructional technology inclusion across the curriculum. During my seven years at NC State, I grew a competitive love for helping educators with the challenges NC public schools face, particularly the schools in the east side of the state. When the opportunity arose for me to possibly come back to NC and be on the ECU faculty, I had to relentlessly pursue it and am so excited to be back here and working with such great colleagues.

  1. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes should a science educator possess?

This question is one that has been debated for years and I suspect will be debated for many more, but I will gladly give you my opinion. As with any other discipline based educator, a science teacher should have the depth and breadth of content knowledge to challenge student thinking, the disposition to understand the role of a professional educator, and to have the will to pursue contemporary and cutting edge knowledge and techniques for the ever changing educational landscape.

  1. What are some of your favorite serious/educational games for science students?

My work evolved from me creating games for students to the students becoming the designer and developer of Serious Education Games. Although there are many good science based games out (e.g., Immune Attack, Mission Biotech, etc) the work my research team and I have accomplished the last 15 years or so has created a solid foundational literature base on greater knowledge, cognitive, and attitudinal gains from students being the designer/developer than just a player.

  1. What instructional methods do you recommend a high school science teacher use in order to pique student interest in science?

The short answer is the one they didn’t use the day before. Again, this has been argued in our field for some time, but engaging the learner is a crucial step in the learning process. Understanding what students do outside of school and bridging those interests to one’s teaching repertoire is always an effective means to engagement. This is how my interest in games came about.  I was not a gamer per se, but while I taught high school in the 90’s, my students would choose not to do the assigned homework. When pressed on what they were doing instead, playing games was a common theme. Integrating games in my teaching helped not only to engage my students, but helped students, who were not succeeding in traditional instruction, learn the science content.

  1. What excites you about instruction in 3D virtual environments?

3D environments play a role in cognitive development. Visuospatial ability is important to successful learning of difficult concepts. Learning bond angles in chemistry, architecture in engineering and technology education, and geometry in math (to names a few) are gateway areas for many to continue or halt their pursuit of STEM degrees and subsequent occupations. With respect to online learning, our work using synchronous, 3D environments as a platform for distance learning has suggested a stronger online presence than in asynchronous courses and communication avenue for students. This is an area that I hope to bring to ECU’s online learning arena.

  1. How do you connect practices in science and engineering education?

Creativity is one area that I have argued has been diminishing in students-mostly because of standardized tests-but the releasing of the Next Generation Science Standards in 2015 has given science educators a model for integrating science and engineering. We just published and edited a book on this subject with researchers worldwide sharing how they’ve created this natural bridge. For us, our Serious Education Game (SEG) design model allows for students to use their imagination and creativity to learn science content at a much deeper level than what they get in a traditional class, while also learning the test-retest engineering model. Students often don’t know that they are learning science or engineering; they just think they are playing in a sandbox through SEG creation.

  1. What hobbies or activities do you enjoy away from work?

I am a father to two teenagers who are involved in sports so most of my “off” time is spent watching or coaching them. I golf and workout when I can as well but the blessing and curse of technology is that I, like most of my colleagues, are on call 24/7.


Dr. Ron Preston: Scholar, Collaborator, Helper

Dr. Ron Preston

We are delighted to highlight Dr. Preston.  His many scholarly accomplishments, which include numerous publications, presentations, and external funding awards would provide sufficient reason to honor him.  Yet there is more to Dr. Preston than one will find in his scholarly work.  Dr. Preston has an uncanny zeal to serve.  We could string together a lengthy series of banal platitudes (he’s indefatigable, precious, a treasure, and so on), but we prefer that you gain your own personal sense for the man.  We asked Dr. Preston some questions about North Carolina, Indiana, mathematics, mathematics education, higher education administration, service, and gardening.  We invite you to read his replies in order to gain a sense for his keen insights.

1. Is North Carolina or Indiana your favorite State in the USA or do you find the two States equally appealing?  Why?

This is a hard one for me. I have very good memories and feelings about both states. It may seem like the easy way out to say NC since the readers are much more likely to reside in NC than IN. However, I will go with NC because this is where I have church, colleagues, friends, and a level of comfort that I would not have if I was suddenly transplanted to Indiana.

2. Why do you enjoy gardening?

I enjoy seeing plants grow. I like seeing people grow more than plants, but sometimes the plants grow more quickly and in ways that are easier to measure than the growth of our students.

3. What intrigues you, personally, about mathematics?

The dual nature that I see in mathematics. I see this particularly in mathematical modeling – mathematics is an incredibly useful tool for understanding our world, for describing it, for solving problems that exist in it, and for making decisions about our future with it. But it is also an art – there is an art to solving problems, to choosing the particular mathematics to bring to bear on a situation, and for communicating the results of your work.

4. In your view, what mathematics knowledge and skills are required for literacy?

Mathematical literacy is very broad, but the first two areas I think about are numeracy (number sense) and stochastic reasoning (data and probability sense). For many people who have careers that are not mathematics intensive, much of the mathematics they encounter is from the number strand – computation with whole numbers; work with fractions, decimals, and percents. But more and more, our citizenry is asked to be consumers of data-infused information and, in many cases, actual users of data.

5. When teaching mathematics educators, what instructional methods do you find effective and inspiring?

I particularly enjoy methods that I did not experience in any great measure as a student. In fact, my first big lesson as a teacher was to understand that how I learned mathematics was not going to be effective for many of my students. I had to learn how to use more visual approaches. I also enjoy teaching through application, but understand that for every student who is motivated by a certain application, there will likely be at least two students who are not enamored with that application.

6. As President of the NC division of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, what insights have you gained into the state of mathematics education in North Carolina.

I have learned that there is a lot of mathematics talent among the membership of NCCTM, a lot of passion about mathematics teaching and learning, and a lot of willingness to share that talent and passion. Around the state, the mathematics education community has a lot of work to do, not just in educating our students (although we cannot forget that is our primary goal), but in sharpening our skills by working with each other, and by educating important constituent groups such as parents, community leaders, and school board members.

7. Among the administrative roles you have held, what does your current position of Director of Students in the Department of Mathematics, Science, Instructional Technology Education offer, which is not available in other roles?

Although sometimes I feel pulled in different directions as I work with recruitment, advising, curriculum, connecting with alumni, advocating for course offerings, etc., I am at the root of it all working for the benefit of students. One of my advisors and supporters in Flanagan is Joyce. Sometimes she will see me early in the morning and ask me why I am dressed up. I will tell her that I am meeting with some very important people and that I am hoping to make a good impression. I think she knows by now that when she asks who I am going to meet with that day that it is going to be students or maybe prospective students. “None of us would be needed here if we did not have students.” I know we do a lot of important work in generating new knowledge, serving as an economic engine for the region, etc., but without students . . . I am quick to add, however, that we need student-centered instructors, housekeepers, chairs, deans, and even upper administrators. Not all of these positions have as much contact with students as I have, but if we do not make student-centered efforts and decisions, we will be the poorer for it as an institution.

8. What drives you to serve others?

I like to help. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others and seeing them succeed. Sometimes service to others means providing a helping hand. Sometimes it means being an advocate for a student or elaborating on the curriculum the student will take. At the heart of my motivation are some words in Matthew 25 of the Bible.

Introducing Dr. Dan Dickerson


1. What are some of your favorite things about North Carolina?

BBQ (only eastern NC), Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme, steamed winter oysters, cover dish on Sunday, the smell of freshly dug peanuts in the fall, hunting and fishing, the coast, the mountains, most places in between the coast and mountains, family and friends, and no matter where I’ve gone or for how long, it has always remained home

2. As a specialist in environmental and earth science, what do wish everyone knew about Earth?

How to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors, while supporting economic growth/sustainability, because that is going to be one of the biggest challenges the next few generations will face.

3. In your view, what are the top environmental challenges we face on Earth? How might we overcome those challenges?

Climate change effects, global availability of potable water, fate and transport of toxicants… I don’t think ignorance is part of the solution, so from that perspective I feel strongly that STEM education is a critical part of the answer, but not the whole answer. Knowing what’s good for you and doing it are two different things, which is why I’m drinking a cherry pepsi right now.

4. Drawing on your experience as a science educator, what should students in K-12 schools learn about science?

What science is, how science operates, and authentically integrated STEM content.

First, understanding the nature of science (i.e. what science is and how it operates) is critical because it means the difference between only seeing science as set of disparate facts that help you win Jeopardy in your living room and seeing science as a specific way of knowing. Understanding the tenets of science and what characteristics make it unique from other ways of knowing helps people understand and act on the strengths and limitations of science in informed ways in both their personal lives and at the ballot box. Secondly, authentically integrated STEM content is important because practitioners rarely, if ever, function within a single domain. Students sense this based in part on their own experiences outside of school and that’s why many often feel that science education in school is stale and disconnected from the real world… their world. Placing science content learning in the context of authentic questions or challenges generates student interest, motivation, and learning.

5. What fundamental technical skills do you recommend budding scientists acquire?

In general, the technical skills associated with a practical knowledge and application of mathematics and statistics and the ability to fix and/or make stuff

More specifically, the technical skills associated with (1) a practical knowledge and application of mathematics and statistics, such as use of computer-based statistical packages; and (2) the ability to fix and/or make stuff, which involves use of hand tools and fabrication equipment (e.g., 3D printers, CNC mill, MIG/TIG welding), CAD, electronics, and coding. These are the new skills that are needed as STEM domains and disciplines continue to become increasingly sophisticated mash-ups, including fields such as biomedical engineering, mechatronics, marine geochemistry and the like.

Communication skills are tantamount to these other technical skills. Many scientists have important insights to share with the public, but if they are unable to do so, all their hard work is effectively diminished. Scientists must now understand and use emergent forms of communication as well as thinking about old forms of communication in new ways as they disseminate their work.

 6. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes should a science educator possess?

Knowledge and skills . . . as many as possible, in as many STEM and non-STEM areas as possible. The more informed and well rounded the science educator, the better he or she can effectively communicate with others from diverse backgrounds. Attitudes . . . care, compassion, and empathy.

 7. Why do you value education so much?

I see it as a practical extension of hope. If you hope that things will be better, you should do something about it. To do something, you have to know what to do. In order to know what to do… education.

Honoring Dr. Sid Rachlin

We are honored to feature Professor Sid Rachlin as our current faculty spotlight. Dr. Rachlin has had a distinguished career as a mathematics education professor. His 13 page long resume is filled with his many contributions to the field–from the 68 books and book chapters that he has written, the numerous presentations that he has given, the 39 grants that he has secured totaling over $25 million dollars, to the awards that he has received. Through these awards, more then 500 teachers have completed graduate course work designed to improve the teaching and learning of K-12 mathematics. Of these teachers nearly 100 have earned grant-supported masters degrees in mathematics education.

From the Hawaii Algebra Learning Project, to the NC Middle Math Project, to NC PIMS, to the design and implementation of the Elementary Mathematics Add-on License, Dr. Rachlin has been an active advocate for supporting the lifelong learning of mathematics teachers in our country. In his role as Coordinator of Mathematics Education at East Carolina University, Dr. Rachlin secured funding from the National Science Foundation to support the design and implementation of a new program of study for preparing teachers of middle grades mathematics. Based on the efforts of the curriculum team and their colleagues in middle grades education — ECU was one of only four universities to ever receive the U.S. Department of Education’s National Award for Effective Teacher Preparation. At the award ceremony in Washington, DC, Secretary Riley stated, “These cutting-edge programs will provide powerful examples for others seeking to ensure that their graduates make a measurable difference in the achievement of K-12 students. We looked for programs that could provide compelling evidence that their graduates were effective classroom teachers capable of advancing the learning of all students.” December 2000

Sid Rachlin began his teaching career after graduating with a BSc degree in Secondary Mathematics from Shippensburg State College in 1969. After completing his masters at Lehigh University he became the Mathematics Chair at Reading Area Community College in 1971. He received his doctoral degree from the University of Georgia in 1981 and taught at the University of Calgary and the University of Hawaii before arriving at East Carolina University in 1993.

Dr. Rachlin will be retiring this August. He will be sorely missed.





Dr. Catherine Schwartz

We offer congratulations to Dr. Catherine Schwartz on her recent promotion to associate professor and for securing grant  funds to deliver professional development in mathematics education.  The N.C. Department of Public Instruction has provided $481,518 for Dr. Schwartz to work on  a three-year collaboration with teachers in Lenoir County.  On another grant project, funded by Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, she is working with a group of beginning teachers from all over Eastern North Carolina to support their mathematics teaching during the first two years. Dr. Schwartz understands the impact that such programs can have. One such project led her from teaching in a elementary classroom to becoming a professor at East Carolina University.  Dr. Schwartz explains:

Experience as a fourth and fifth grade classroom teacher has had a huge impact on my work with teachers. Early in my teaching career I was a participant in a five year statewide professional development program, (Teaching Excellence and Mathematics — TEAM II) focused on mathematics teaching. The connections I made and the knowledge I gained through that program led me back to graduate school and to doing my current job.

To further spotlight Dr. Schwartz, we asked her to reply to some questions. We present her answers in an interview format below.

What drew you to the field of Mathematics Education and what areas are of particular interest?

When I started teaching elementary school, I realized that while I was always successful in mathematics courses, I didn’t truly understand even simple mathematics conceptually. For example, why does long division work? I wondered as a first year teacher how I got so far without knowing mathematics in a deeper way and how I could help my students know it. So I started looking for professional development opportunities to learn more and ended up in the state-wide project I talked about above a couple of years later.

I am particularly interested now in how preservice and beginning teachers make sense of and develop their mathematics teaching over time as they move through multiple contexts during their preparation and early experiences as teachers.

What universities have you attended and what degrees did you earn?

University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Curriculum and Instruction, Ph.D., 2008

University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Curriculum and Instruction, M.Ed., 2005

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Elementary Education, B.A., 1997 – Elementary Education

What would you like to accomplish through your teaching?

I hope to provide opportunities for my students to engage in mathematics in new ways to deepen their understanding and to use these experiences and current research to enhance their mathematics teaching practices.
What do you hope to achieve through your research?

I hope to better understand the contexts and experiences that help beginning teachers develop competence, confidence, and agency in their mathematics teaching.

What would you like to accomplish with your service work?

I would like develop a strong network of elementary mathematics educators across Eastern North Carolina so that all our elementary students have opportunities to engage in rich mathematics problem-solving.

Dr. Rhea Miles: Our Next Faculty Spotlight

We offer congratulations to Rhea Miles on her recent one million dollar grant award, a Science Education Against Drug Abuse Partnership Program funded by National Institute of Health / National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH/NIDA) from 2014-2018. The Science Education Against Drug Abuse Partnership (SEADAP) program is a 6-12th grade curriculum using planarians. Planarians are a type of flat worm that display preclinical effects of addictive substances such as nicotine and alcohol.  The specific aims of the program are to use planarians to implement an outstanding “hands on” curriculum which teaches students about the science of drug addiction and the adverse effects of widely abused substances; foster partnerships between scientists, educators and students via media outlets to educate the general public about drug addiction and abuse; conduct investigations from a lab manual with students and teachers which specifically address National Science Education Standards; expose students to addiction research; and increase student interest in careers in biomedical science. Click to see TV News coverage of this study.

To further spotlight Dr. Miles, we asked her to reply to some questions and present her answers in an interview format below.
What universities have you attended, what did you study, and what degrees did you earn?
BS in Chemistry from James Madison University
MAT Chemistry from  University of Virginia
PhD Science Education  from University of Virginia

What informal learning experiences and/or work experiences have contributed to your education?

As a child growing up in Virginia, I participated in several mathematics, science and engineering enrichment programs. Later in school, as a graduate student and teacher I had the privilege of serving as the sponsor of the science club at Charlottesville High School, where I was an instructor. At the University of Virginia I coordinated several STEM-related programs for teachers, high school students, and undergraduate students.  I also led science sessions for Delta Academy participants of the Charlottesville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated.

What drew you to the field of Science Education?  What areas of Science Ed are of particular interest?

I love science, particularly general chemistry. I found the subject matter really interesting in high school and thus decided to earn a BS in Chemistry in college at James Madison University. I also like to talk— and what better way to direct my willingness to orally communicate with others than by pursuing a profession which requires it!  As a teacher and research professor I am allowed to present information about what I like and I disseminate my research interests through written publications and conference presentations. My research focuses primarily on African-American achievement in science. I am particularly interested in equity in science education and creating strategies to address the“ achievement gap” of African-American and Latino students in K-12 and higher education.

What are some of the projects you have participated in that you are most proud of?

I have served as one of the coordinators of the TechMath professional development program from 2006-2010 funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This program involved forming a partnership with businesses, colleges, universities and school systems in rural northeastern North Carolina. The products of the partnerships were instructional modules which incorporated and modeled solutions to local, real-world business problems. The TechMath objectives focused on impacting a high percentage of under-served, under-represented 6-12th grade students from 12 school districts in rural northeastern North Carolina and improving instruction and student attitudes about Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) careers.  Teachers and students designed and implemented instructional modules with the help of business partner representatives and members of the TechMath staff.  I have also been the Principal Investigator and Director of the East Carolina Reach Up program from 2002-2010. The goal of the Reach Up program was to motivate minority students to consider careers in a STEM-related discipline. I have published articles on the success of the impact of science enrichment programs on minority students in journals such as the Science Teacher, Teachers Educator Journal, Electronic Journal of Science Education, and Science Scope. I have also presented my research findings related to the effect of science enrichment programs at over 15 state, national, and international conferences. I  look forward to continuing to inspiring others to want to make a positive contribution to the science profession.

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