By Shawn Pollgreen
If your students have ever sought and received help at the Math Specialized Preparatory Area (SPA) at East Campus, thank Amanda Saxman, professor of math, for this service.
Amanda first envisioned this math tutoring center in 2006, as a place that would provide a supportive and comfortable learning environment for preparatory (prep) math students, and that would facilitate a successful path through their prep math courses. With the help of an Achieving the Dream grant and assistance from her department and colleagues, like Richard Weinsier, the East Campus Math SPA was born and has since grown from a handful of tutors in a tiny room into a fully staffed, dedicated Math Center.
Amanda grew up in Brevard County and attended Brevard Community College before continuing on to earn a bachelor’s degree in math education (2002) and a master’s degree in mathematics (2004), both from the University of Central Florida.
“I loved the atmosphere of the community college,” she said, “and even though I was there a short time, I knew that when I decided to pursue education as a career, that is where I wanted to be.”
She began working at Valencia in 2002, first as a math tutor, lab assistant, and adjunct instructor, and then as a full-time professor in the math department, earning tenure in 2011. She has also taught part-time for the dance department for many years and has been involved with the Learning in Community (LinC) program, partnering with student life skills (SLS) professors to “find new ways to help our students be successful.”
Amanda’s dedication to learning-centered teaching and student success earned her a 2012 NISOD award and a nod from the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program in its 2013 article “Creating a Faculty Culture of Student Success” (page 11). The article cites an action research project that Amanda implemented to improve student learning in intermediate algebra.
Amanda’s action research project engaged students in learning about parabolas through story-telling and hands-on applications. To assess whether this teaching/learning intervention improved student learning, she designed pre- and post-tests and compared test results in that section against other intermediate algebra sections that did not have the intervention. She also compared post-test results in that section against final exam scores of her students from previous semesters.
In examining the outcomes of the action research project, Amanda found that students in the experimental group demonstrated improved understanding of parabolas and quadratics and also earned higher post-test/final exam scores than students who did not receive the intervention.
That action research project not only informed Amanda’s subsequent teaching/learning strategies in intermediate algebra but also her engagement in ongoing, reflective teaching practices.
“When I completed my action research project for my tenure portfolio, I had never before worked with the process,” she said. “I think, like most instructors, I want to do so many things for my students but don’t know how to budget the time to fit it all in. I would seldom take the time to reflect on what I had done to the degree I should have. I appreciated that this process made me take that time.”
If you’re interested in planning and conducting small-scale, practical research to investigate questions regarding student learning that directly impact their practices, apply for DESTINATION 2013.
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