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Mathematician awarded Fulbright grant for research in Norway

Computing is rapidly becoming a fundamental aspect of mathematical and scientific work in K-12 and college classrooms. In the United States, industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs increasingly require computational skills, making it essential to mathematics and science education. A 2019 Fulbright research scholarship will take mathematician Elise Lockwood to Norway where she will investigate the role that computing can play in students’ learning of mathematical concepts.

The competitive U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program offers nearly 470 teaching, research or combination teaching/research awards in over 125 countries. The Fulbright Scholar Program supports activities and projects that recognize and promote the critical relationship between educational exchange and international understanding, in addition to the intellectual merit of the project.

Lockwood, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, will spend the fall 2019 semester at the University of Oslo conducting research on certain fundamental questions that arise from the convergence of computation and mathematical learning. Some of the questions she will investigate pertain to how computing affects the ways in which undergraduate students solve mathematical problems and reason about mathematical concepts. A key objective for Lockwood is to determine how to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics by incorporating computing into mathematics classes.

“Given the increased focus on computing in mathematical and scientific fields, there is a need for mathematics education researchers to investigate ways in which students may effectively engage in computing within mathematical contexts,” said Lockwood.

According to Lockwood, there are relatively few opportunities in the United States to study students’ computational activity in university mathematics classrooms because computing is not often thoroughly and intentionally integrated into university-level mathematics programs.

“This lack of integration necessarily limits opportunities for U.S.-based researchers to investigate how students engage in computation in mathematical settings and how such engagement may affect their mathematical thinking and learning,” Lockwood observed.

Lockwood chose the University of Oslo for her Fulbright project because it has a novel mathematics program in which all mathematics students are required to learn computing in their first year and apply their computing knowledge to mathematical and scientific settings. In this way, the program offers an excellent opportunity to collect data in undergraduate mathematics classes and investigate the role that computing can play in undergraduate students’ mathematical learning.

Lockwood is an internationally known expert in the area of mathematics education research. She is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Early CAREER Award for her project examining undergraduate students’ computational activity within the specific mathematical context of combinatorics. She received the John and Annie Selden Prize for Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education from the Mathematical Association of America in 2018.

The Fulbright fellowship will enable Lockwood to extend her research expertise in the teaching and learning of computing in mathematics to other areas besides combinatorics. At the University of Oslo, Lockwood will have the opportunity to investigate students’ computing in additional mathematical content areas, including calculus and linear algebra.

The Association of Computing Machinery suggests that by 2020, 50 percent of jobs in STEM in the United States will involve computing. Integrating mathematical learning with computation offers a number of practical benefits to enhance learning and help mathematics students qualify for a broader range of STEM jobs after graduation.

“Findings from this project could provide research-based evidence for effective ways to incorporate computing into mathematics classes, offer examples of productive computing in a variety of mathematical areas, and speak to the broader phenomenon of the teaching and learning of computing for mathematics students,” said Lockwood.

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