When Damon Bahr, associate professor of elementary mathematics education, switched from teaching young children to teaching university students, he had to learn to function simultaneously on three different levels:

  1. Mathematics
  2. Teaching mathematics
  3. Teaching the teaching of mathematics

image of Dr. Bahr outsideSound difficult? Bahr said it is. “Just because a person knows math doesn’t mean he or she knows how to teach it,” he clarified. “Similarly, just because someone teaches math doesn’t mean he or she knows how to teach others how to teach it.” Because a good example is the most powerful teacher, Bahr said he has to teach how to teach in the same way he wants his students to teach their future students. “I’ve spent 12 years of my life trying to figure that out,” he related.

When instructing teacher candidates, Bahr works from the premise that his students want elementary school children to understand why math works—not just how. “We want them to solve problems in different ways, to reason, and to communicate their thinking,” Bahr stated. He said that if he is to convey this in his own teaching, he doesn’t simply lecture his students—something many professors in similar positions do. He encourages them to examine things from various perspectives by actively involving them in the learning process.

Sometimes Bahr and his students will watch video clips of teachers to learn from them. Other times his class will go to a local elementary school and watch him teach the children. “All the time I’m asking them to view things from a different perspective, to reason and dig deep, cognitively speaking,” Bahr expressed.

Having taught elementary school for 18 years and teacher candidates for 12, Bahr said there is one similarity: It’s all about relationships. “It’s more about how you feel about your students than what you do,” he elaborated. “If you believe your students want to grow and learn and be successful, then you figure it out. But if you don’t care, you can’t fake it. You have to love them.”

Within the past two years, Bahr has published numerous articles on how to teach and how to teach teaching. One recently published article discusses the barriers between preservice and inservice mathematics teacher education. Preservice education refers to preparing teacher candidates to become teachers, while inservice education refers to helping teachers improve once they have a job. Providers of both forms of instruction “want to produce the best teachers we can to bless children,” Bahr said. The BYU-Public School Partnership is one example of overcoming barriers by uniting preservice and inservice educators through working collaboratively to improve teacher education and K-12 student learning.

17 August 2009