Math teacher keeps education fresh

Marleen Rodriguez

Marleen Rodriguez

Throughout the years, SDSU professor Christine Larson has urged the next generation of math teachers to find new and exciting approaches to education.

“I tell my students they’re going to have to figure out how to make a difference in their students’ lives and show them how much fun math really is,” she said. “That attitude really does help.”

Larson, professor of mathematics and statistics, has been teaching courses at SDSU since 1992. This year, the Council of Teachers in Math held a conference in Huron on Feb. 6 where Larson was a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for her active involvement and contributions to math education at SDSU.

Larson currently teaches Calculus I and II and occasionally Calculus III, as well as the Capstone course which she personally designed for math majors going into early childhood education. The focus of the course is to prepare students to teach in classrooms where laptops, smart boards and other new technology are being applied.

“It is a spring course that has never been taught in math education at SDSU. My idea for teaching it is to see what kinds of things need to be done,” said Larson.

Throughout her years of teaching, Larson has placed an emphasis on math education mainly due to her student teaching experience. Larson tries to teach future math teachers to deliver course material in dynamic and interactive manners.

“Chris is very involved in teacher education, and it shows in the way she transfers her enthusiasm and information to students,” said Dan Kemp, professor of mathematics. “I enjoy having her as a colleague.”

Having finished her undergraduate studies at Augustana College, Larson went on to receive her master’s in mathematics and doctorate for math education from Montana State University. As part of her assistantship as a graduate student, Larson was given a classroom where she discovered her talent for teaching. She then completed a series of internships, each lasting from a year to three years, in which she taught mathematics at different academic levels, ranging from third grade to fifth grade, middle school and even high school.

The internships proved to be a learning experience even for Larson, who described the younger children as being generally more excited about everything, even learning math. The high school level presented different challenges during which Larson found it rewarding to push students at a more advanced stage to excel, but more importantly she discovered that what happened in grade school affected what happened in high school.

“It’s always interesting because people will tell me they were never good at math or even liked it. I’ll ask why and invariably it comes back to a bad experience they had in their early childhood,” said Larson. “I think that’s so sad because math is very fun and exciting.”

Another unique aspect in her curriculum is the introduction of female mathematicians to prove that math is not just a field for men. Mathematicians include Sophie Germain, Emmy Noether and Sonia Kovalevsky, whom she even named one of her dogs after.

“We talk about the fact that although female mathematicians are not in the history books, they’re there, and girls, especially in middle school and high school, need to know that math is also for girls,” she said.

Though Larson encourages more women to become involved with math, her passion for education translates to both genders.

“I enjoy her teaching style, she makes herself personally involved and has conversations with students making her more approachable,” said Tom Strubel, one of Larson’s sutdents and civil engineer major.

Larson’s involvement and service has not been limited to academics. The community has benefited from her contributions just as well. Larson is the current president of the Brookings chapter of the American Association of University Women, which promotes equity for all females, positive societal change and lifelong education. During the fall, the Foundation hosts a book sale to raise money in order to grant a scholarship to an incoming SDSU female student.

She also volunteers once a week to teach a weekly math lesson in her children’s classroom, which happens to be first and fourth grade this year. The knowledge she has gained through her experience in her volunteer work is used to help Larson’s students better prepare for a teaching setting.

“I can actually say I know certain methods work, because I use them to teach,” she said.

During the summer, Larson maintains a busy schedule by giving workshops for the three-year grant South Dakota Counts, which was created to increase the amount of Kindergarten to fifth grade math teachers as well as improving the math academic achievement of students.

Adding to the list of service-oriented involvement on her resume, Larson is a faculty adviser for SDSU’s Council of Teachers of Math, as well as the scorekeeper for SDSU’s women’s basketball games. Having initially been an English major, she is also a member of a monthly book club.

Larson dreams of one day doing research and some sort of publishing, but at the moment, she is determined to continue with the Capstone course and finding ways to improve the Math Department at SDSU.

“I like being a role model for students.”