Tapping into the minds of Assistant Professors of Mathematics Dr. Adam Boocher and Dr. Amy Buchmann

Adam Boocher on the left and Amy Boocher on the right.

STEM Innovative Pedagogy Interview

Tapping into the minds of Dr. Adam Boocher, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Dr. Amy Buchmann, Assistant Professor of Mathematics.

Interviewed and written by Fayth Fowler, CEE Student Visual Media Assistant- October 9, 2019

Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann are here to talk about one of mathematics professors’ trickiest problems: engagement in the classroom. They help tackle this common issue by integrating ideas from Project NExT, a professional development program for junior faculty. They are motivated to make their classroom environment full of encouragement, purpose, and growth for their students through their passion to help students feel comfortable within the classroom.

Why did you decide to be a mathematics educator? What led you to teach at USD?

What led both Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann to become mathematics educators were their experiences with motivational professors during their undergraduate years. They thrived due to educational environments where they had personalized experiences with their professors. This experience drew them to USD. Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann wanted to pay it forward in their teaching career by inspiring and influencing students to love the process of learning. What led them to teach at USD was the small and intimate class sizes throughout the University. It gave them a better opportunity to get to know and develop academic relationships with their students.

What is Project NExT and why did you become an MAA Project NExT Fellow?

Project NExT (New Experiences in Teaching) is a professional development program for new or recent Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences. The program helps professors network and learn engaging techniques to implement within the classroom. During the Project NExT program, multiple workshops model effective teaching strategies to help professors see these techniques in action. For instance one workshop uses different games, such as scratch-off cards revealing answers to math questions and having to make a model out of pipe cleaners that represents a graph of a function. Methods like this allow students to explore and discover mathematics. Project NExT encourages faculty to adopt teaching strategies that actively engage students, such as Inquiry-Based Learning, group work with challenging problems, teaching with projects, and classroom voting.

Project NExT encourages faculty to adopt teaching strategies that actively engage students, such as Inquiry-Based Learning, group work with challenging problems, teaching with projects, and classroom voting. What teaching strategies have you implemented that actively engage students in the classroom?

Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann have implemented voting within their classes to receive real-time data to see how well their students are absorbing the material. Both of the professors implemented “think-pair-share” within their classroom discussions to help students identify the main concepts with one another. Sharing ideas with one another helps students understand the material at a deeper level.

Why is active learning important for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies?

Active learning can be an important component in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses. Every instructor has their own approach in implementing an active classroom environment. Dr. Boocher compares his style to that of learning to play an instrument. There are going to be moments where you make a mistake but from those mistakes you grow and learn to perfect your craft. Dr. Buchmann’s teaching style is similar to Dr. Boocher’s in that it focuses on establishing an academic environment that emphasizes “productive struggle.” Setting a classroom expectation where mistakes are welcome is a key component in their courses. They comment on the importance of a growth mindset to help support and encourage academic success within the classroom.

Which Project NExT workshop(s) most affected your views on teaching, being a faculty member, and of being a member of the wider mathematics community?

Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann both comment on how there are so many workshops that occurred during the project NExT program that it is difficult to narrow it down to one. Workshops dedicated to inquiry-based and discovery-based learning were especially interesting for them. One workshop that stood out to Dr. Boocher was one focused on different assessment tools, including testing for student mastery.

What kind of advice would you give to a new professor who is hoping to actively engage their students in new and dynamic ways?

Dr. Boocher and Dr. Buchmann recommend implementing one new thing at a time. Also, they recommend being transparent with students and clearly articulating how these activities contribute to the course goals. Lastly, both professors recommend Project NExT because it helped elevate their teaching to create an engaging, purposeful, and growth-oriented learning environment.