Judy Larsen is an associate professor in the Upgrading and University Preparation department who recently earned her PhD. Judy mainly teaches ABE mathematics courses, but she also teaches courses for the Teacher Education program and the Mathematics and Statistics department. Driven by a desire to continue growing as an educator herself, she stumbled upon a thriving professional learning community on social media that focuses on developing tools to enhance mathematics teaching without funding or mandate, which she has now studied for over six years to identify how and why it remains resilient. Through this research, Judy has identified features of self-organized learning collectives that are fruitful for consideration not only in social media contexts, but also within physical learning spaces such as classrooms and professional learning environments.
My interests in education were evident early in life. When I experienced something as a learner, I wanted to share it with others. Consequently, I learned more deeply when I taught others because I had to find ways to communicate my own understandings. Music was an early fascination that I have pursued and engaged with throughout my life. Mathematics followed, and it wasn’t entirely apparent to me that I enjoyed it until I experienced helping others with it, sometimes without them realizing that they were doing mathematics. Since I had both positive and negative experiences with mathematics, I understand both perspectives and am very interested in the attitudes and motivations that exist within mathematical learning. I have transformed as a mathematical learner through experiences in both my undergraduate degree and my graduate studies. When I reflect on these, I see how many students never get to see the full potential of mathematical thinking and exploration. As such, my goal as a teacher and a researcher is to help others experience mathematics authentically, to help foster mathematical curiosity, and to build a supportive community in which learning can feel safe and accepted.
There is no teaching without learning. Fundamentally, I believe that learning is an ongoing process of adaptation to new experiences and that the formation of new learnings is facilitated through discussion and consistent application of ideas within novel and emergent circumstances that are increasingly challenging: we evolve when the environment makes it possible and necessary for us to do so. As such, my role as a teacher is dictated by creating conditions that will occasion mathematical learning. Mathematics is best learned by doing. As such, I focus on creating an environment that motivates students to do mathematics by supporting them as they think through problematized tasks – often with the aid of technology-enhanced visualizations or manipulatives – and by having them work in randomized groupings around the room on vertical whiteboards. Technology and manipulatives can help develop conceptual understanding, frequently randomized groupings can break down social barriers, and vertical whiteboards can help mobilize knowledge around the room. Increasingly challenging tasks, interspersed with lessons focused on generalizing concepts, can keep students motivated and engaged in mathematical thinking. Ultimately, my goal is to help students build a rich network of connections within and among mathematical concepts and to strengthen their ability to think flexibly when faced with increasingly challenging problems. Many students attempt to complete mathematics courses by memorizing procedures and rules. I find this approach self-defeating and unsustainable. To this end, I believe it is necessary to focus students’ attention on the how and why behind various concepts and notations, as well as provide them with many occasions in which to use these ideas. Since many students struggle with mathematics, the role of community and connection cannot be undermined; therefore, I draw from Indigenous ways of knowing to emphasize the role of community and story-telling in learning. As a teacher, I am driven by an intrinsic desire to engender students’ appreciation for mathematics and by the practice of lifelong learning. As I teach, I learn; as I learn, I teach.
I teach fundamental, intermediate, advanced, and provincial level mathematics in the Adult Basic Education setting of the Upgrading and University Preparation Department. I enjoy teaching pre-calculus concepts. I also enjoy teaching mathematics for future teachers as well as pedagogical methods related to teaching mathematics.
Environments and teaching practices that occasion mathematical learning and that promote student engagement; affective factors such as anxiety and self-efficacy within mathematics education; the role of autonomy and motivation in learning environments; mathematics teacher professional growth; complex learning communities; Indigenous ways of knowing within mathematical learning environments; digital media communication within mathematics education; and transitions between theory and practice in teacher education.
Researchgate Profile: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Judy_Larsen2