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Source: Larry Scharmann, 785-532-6938,
News release prepared by: Kristin Hodges, 785-532-6415,

Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009


MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University is leading the state in producing mathematics education students who are ready for the challenge of engaging youths in the classroom.

K-State's College of Education plans to award 134 bachelor's degrees this semester, and nine of those will go to students specializing in mathematics education. In spring 2010, an additional 16 students are expected to graduate with the degree. K-State has a large number of mathematics education graduates each year, and the students said that the field allows them to combine their love for math with their love of teaching.

"I chose to teach math because I really wanted a job around kids that has an impact on their lives," said Matt Morton, a December graduate in mathematics education and a 2005 graduate of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School. "Teaching gives you an opportunity to encourage, care for and really build kids' confidence in themselves."

K-State has been a leader in producing math education teachers. Compared to other higher education institutions in Kansas, K-State has had the most or tied for the most math education graduates since the 2005-2006 school year, according to data from the Kansas Department of Education.

Larry Scharmann, K-State professor and chair of the department of secondary education, said science and math are the two most difficult subjects for which to find teachers, and K-State has strived to recruit students to these areas. In the past, teacher shortages in the nation and in Kansas have been an issue, and he said any recent changes could be because of fluctuations in the economy.

"Teachers expecting to retire delayed their retirements and are waiting for the economy to improve," he said. "We will see the real shortage re-emerge as the economy improves."

Lori Martini, a teacher in residence in secondary education at K-State, has been teaching mathematics education courses for more than 10 years. She also is a ninth-grade math teacher at Manhattan High School. She said K-State students in mathematics education have been successful at finding jobs.

"To date, I have not had a student teacher who wanted to go right into teaching after graduating not get a job, which is kind of unusual and is not the case in other education disciplines," she said.

Some mathematics education students said they chose their career because they wanted to pursue education and they enjoyed and excelled at math. However, Martini said several students started their studies in a different area – typically engineering – and later switched to education because they wanted a career in which they could work with youths.

Maragarita Alcantara, a December graduate from Manhattan, started her studies in medicine. She decided to switch her major to education after tutoring students in English and Spanish. Though she also enjoys science, English is her second language and she pursued math because it is more universal.

Lydia Peele, a December graduate in mathematics education and a 2004 graduate of Olathe North High School, will begin teaching high school math in Washington, D.C., in fall 2010 through Teach for America, which involves a two-year commitment of teaching in a rural or urban public school. Peele said she was attracted to the program because of its mission to lead students to succeed academically despite the challenges of poverty and the limited capacity of the school system.

"I believe that having an education empowers people to realize and achieve their dreams, and I hope that by teaching I am able to make a positive impact on the lives of others," she said.

Peele spoke at the College of Education's commencement ceremony Dec. 12. While at K-State, she served as both vice president and president of the student body. She said the experience taught her the value of a positive attitude and the impact that a great team can make. She was a student teacher this fall and said that some of the challenges for educators are the varying levels of students' math backgrounds and the achievement gap.

Gina Buchholz, a December graduate in mathematics education and a 2005 graduate of Manhattan High School, said another challenge for math teachers is the state tests taken for the No Child Left Behind Act.

"While it is nice to keep teachers accountable and give guidelines for what to teach, it makes us focus more on making kids pass the test than making sure they are good at their number-sense skills," she said.

Marcia Kaus is a December graduate in mathematics and mathematics education, and she is a 2005 graduate of Colby High School from Hoisington. She has learned the challenges of encouraging students in math.

"Many students are very unmotivated when it comes to math," she said. "We must be even more creative with our lessons by using more technology and relating math to the students' lives."

Also earning degrees in mathematics education this fall are: Rebecca Thiessen, Beloit, a 2005 graduate of Saint Johns High School; Jessica Armstrong, Hutchinson, a 2005 graduate of Buhler High School; and Michael McCauley, a 2004 graduate of Manhattan High School, and Leslie Yates, a 2005 graduate of Mill Valley High School, Shawnee.