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Getting to the Square Root of the Problem in Mathematics Education

Approaches in mathematics education is often highly contested, and the question about the best way to teach math still persists. Bailey Kirk is trying to get at the root of this question in her honors thesis.  Kirk (mathematics ’18) recently attended the National Colligate Honors Conference (NCHC) in Atlanta, Georgia to present her research poster, “Mathematics Education through College Algebra and Calculus.” The focus of her work examines where students struggle in college algebra and calculus.

“During the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school year, Georgia Southern University and its faculty conducted assessments in College Algebra and a study on prerequisite skills in Calculus classes,” Kirk said. “The results show the number of students that answered the problems correctly or incorrectly in different classes. My research focuses on taking this data and further analyzing it to try to discover where students struggle the most in College Algebra and the prerequisite skills required for Calculus and whether there are any common trends.”

Kirk’s research calculates statistical results and ranks the problems based on the percentages of questions answered correctly while mapping the skills needed to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). The data are then analyzed to see if there are common trends in the type of class – fully online compared to traditional classroom – and when the concepts were taught and then reinforced in K-12 grades.

“After we figure out which concepts in College Algebra and which prerequisite skills required for Calculus students often have difficulty with and why, we will work on teaching suggestions to help improve the teaching and learning of these concepts and skills,” Kirk said.

Her experience at NCHC was in some ways very similar to the Honors Research Symposium held annually at Georgia Southern University. Kirk has presented at the program’s symposium every year of her academic career thus far. “I have presented my Honors Thesis as well as other research from my FYE class at the symposium. I think those previous experiences really helped me prepare for the NCHC,” she said.

During her presentation she had many viewers who were intrigued by her ideas and research. However, most of them wanted to know how she will implement her findings. Kirk is currently creating lesson plans that are adjusted to where the students are struggling the most.

“One of my favorite people that came to talk to me was a professor. He said that my poster showed him that student really do learn from what he teaches and that he forgets sometimes,” she said.

During Kirk’s undergraduate career, she pushed herself to do more than what was expected of her. Last year, Kirk also presented research from her experience volunteering in Costar Rica on the Honors Alternative Break Trip. She is currently a peer leader for the third year in a row for the Honors Section of FYE that she took her freshman year of college. This is her third year as a Community Leader on campus. Kirk does not limit herself. Instead, she desires to gain every experience. Kirk wants for other students to not be afraid to pursue opportunities, such as NCHC.

“Do it! There are always excuses to not go on conferences, but the sooner you do it the more you can go on and the less scary it is. My freshman year was when I went on my first conference and we went to Richmond, Virginia. Since then I have presented eight different times now and attended conferences that range from math focused to culture. No matter the conference there is always something you can learn from and find interesting,” Kirk said.


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