Graduate Research for MAT–Math students       Math 5396 (CRN 21828)

WELCOME!  ¡BIENVENIDOS!              Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Description from Graduate Catalog:  “A written report on an appropriate subject in mathematics or statistics is required.  May not be counted towards the 24 hours of course work in the thesis option, but may be substituted for three hours of thesis credit [e.g., Math 5398].  May not be repeated for credit. Prerequisite: Instructor approval.” 


Meetings:  We officially have available Tuesdays and Thursdays 6:30-7:50pm in Bell Hall 130A.  Because of the small size, individualized nature, diverse student schedules, and evolving needs of this course, however, we will explore the possibility of moving to a flexible hybrid or modified format in which our in-person meeting time can take the form of individual or group meetings at a different time or online. (Also, we will resolve soon which of the multiple possibilities for our finals week meeting we will use, taking into account conflicts with teacher work hours and any other UTEP classes.)  Also, any of you who may be working towards a thesis under a different advisor will be able to take advantage of guidance/help I can offer while maintaining your work/relationship with your main advisor. This flexible scheduling will help us find an appropriate balance between giving individual attention on issues that are highly individual-specific and holding group forums to share insights, challenges, resources, and skills that can help us all. Eating in Bell 130A is okay if it’s not distracting/messy, but is not allowed in the computer lab.  In the event of a big disruption (e.g., H1N1 epidemic, etc.), be prepared to maintain course progress via phone or Internet (possibly using a Blackboard course shell) and be sure to check your email addresses (especially your UTEP one) regularly.


Instructor:  Dr. Larry Lesser (rhymes with “professor”, spelled like “<”). I began teaching university classes in 1988 (I’ve been a UTEP Assoc. Prof. since 2004). I’ve served on national editorial and research advisory boards and published in selective research journals. More background at  (FYI:  from there, click “SCHEDULE” and at the top you can see this syllabus if you misplace yours, want to explore its links, or need to see syllabus updates that occur after today.)


How to reach me:  my official Bell Hall 213 office hours will start off as 10:30-11:30 TTh & by appointment, with additional hours and changes to be announced/posted on my door or website; also, feel free to ask me (or leave me) questions by phone (747-6845; “SIR OUIJA”) or email (Lesser (at); when you email, please include “5396” as part of the subject line).  It’s my job and privilege to serve you and provide guidance so no need for you to wait a week until our next class meeting to get a question answered.  (In fact, I may send an email to the whole class in between some meetings to offer additional information or materials, so check your email regularly.)


Textbook: Readings will be assigned from the literature, but no required textbook to buy.


Grades:  determined by the usual cutoffs of 90-80-70-60.  UTEP policy requires that inquiries about confidential information such as grades cannot be over the phone, but must be from your account and accompanied by your 800 number. Any student who is working on a thesis with a different main advisor will be graded only on the research-in-progress and oral presentation, with appropriate input from that advisor.


Homework/Quizzes/Short Reflections (10%):  these could include intermediate assignments such as short (1-2 pages) reflections, article reviews, in-class discussion facilitations or presentations (see giving oral presentations), or (possibly unannounced) quizzes.


Presentation of Research Paper (25%):  You give an oral presentation of your paper at or before our finals week meeting under time constraints to be announced.  The presentation (i.e., visual aids, spoken content, and responses to questions) will be assessed on clarity, engagement, and appropriateness for the audience. See tips for oral presentations. This is an excellent opportunity to prepare yourself to give a better thesis defense or conference talk.


Attendance:  Subject to change if required by UTEP policy, your final course average will have 1.5 – 3U – E points added to it, where U = number of unexcused absences and E = number of excused absences.  This reflects how crucial participation and attendance are for this kind of interactive, beyond-the-book course, but without penalizing someone who has rare (excused) absences.  (See section on Attendance for more information)


Research Paper (65%): Subject to modification by instructor, the paper is due to the instructor 5 calendar days before your oral presentation. The topic must be approved in advance by the instructor, and generally should involve empirical research on a topic involving  the teaching/learning of math/statistics.  Typically, this involves data you analyze from your (or, perhaps someone else’s) classroom, with all needed IRB/approvals in place before data is collected (e.g., see the 7 steps at the bottom of

This paper and all other written assignments should be word processed with double-spacing and a standard 12-point font (e.g., Times New Roman), checked for spelling/grammar, and have any appropriate output/graphics electronically pasted into the document.  Sections should be clearly marked, assembled in order, and stapled (not put into a folder or sleeve) with a meaningfully-titled (i.e., not just “research paper”) identification coversheet on top.

 This paper need not have the full detail and length of a thesis, but it will mirror the “five-chapter format” of a thesis in a scaled-down manner that is closer to what a journal article has (and I’m happy to give you guidance later about submitting your paper to an appropriate journal if you’re interested!).  There is no specific minimum or maximum page limit for this paper, but I expect that to address all the requirements, it will probably end up being around 15-25 pages long, not counting appendices.  



The paper must be broken down by the following section headings that must appear in this order:


Abstract of 100-200 words that summarizes paper, including the purpose, type of research strategy, main results, and main implication


Introduction – this section is a “statement of the problem”, including the purpose and need for your study (think about what made you decide this was an important or interesting thing to explore for your own curiosity and for the benefit of the education community) and its guiding research questions and theoretical/conceptual framework/model/theory; include delimitations that you impose at the beginning to narrow the scope (this are different from ‘limitations’ -- conditions you would not have chosen but were beyond your control); define any complex terms; also include any prior pilot study work you did)


Literature review this is a detailed expansion of the relevant references from the introduction section, appropriately taking into account relevant literature within and beyond mathematics education (see literature search tools at; be sure to point out positive and negative sides, gaps, etc., and be sure to not just give a chronology of results from other studies, but synthesize, organize and critique them


Methodology – the rationale for the design of the study needs to be given, hopefully in a way that naturally “follows” from the information in the preceding two sections (e.g., does the research design “fit” the research question?); it is often nice to see a visual diagram that maps out the flow of the steps of the study; the procedures or protocol for carrying out the study (including any intervention or treatment) and collecting data needs to be given in at least enough detail to allow for replication; describe the population and sample (and how they were selected) in a way that provides the appropriate level of anonymity, but still gives the reader a useful idea of relevant characteristics; describe the data collection instruments used (e.g., written questionnaire, interview questions, tests, observation forms, etc.) and how they were chosen or constructed (the actual instruments can be included in the appendix), and how you have addressed issues such as reliability and validity; if you haven’t already, be sure all hypotheses have been stated in terms of variables with concrete operational definitions; describe the data analysis techniques and tools that are used; note any triangulation (of method, of subject, of researcher, of data source) used


Results – this is reporting what the data actually say and should be organized by research questions; don’t just give us a very long sequence of narrative here – find ways to summarize analysis/output with tables/graphs/charts or move certain details to an appendix to maintain the flow for the readers


Discussion --  summarizes actual findings and interprets what the data mean and what they imply (i.e., practical implications for researchers and teachers), and gives conclusions that are specifically supported by your results and connect back to the literature; discuss possible impacts of limitations, threats to validity, etc., and offer suggestions for future research 


References section with appropriate and complete referencing style of the APA (, even for websites and people you consult.  (another reference: Ch. 8 of Hendricks’ Improving Schools through Action Research).  Note that your references should primarily consist of refereed journal articles and book chapters rather than webpages and ED documents that have not been peer reviewed.


Appendices (this should include your blank data collection instruments such as questionnaires and interview questions)



Academic Integrity:  As teachers, you especially appreciate that cheating, plagiarism and collusion in dishonest activities are serious acts which erode the university’s purpose and integrity and cheapen the learning experience for us all. Don’t resubmit work completed for other classes without specific acknowledgment and permission from me.  It is expected that work you submit will represent your own effort (or your own group’s effort, if it is a group project), will not involve copying from or accessing unauthorized resources or people (e.g., from a previous year’s class).  You must cite references that you do consult, using current APA style (American Psychological Association) with complete citations even for websites and people you consult. It’s UTEP’s policy (and mine) for all suspected violations to be referred to the Dean of Students for investigation and appropriate disposition (See Section 1.3.1 of the Handbook for Operating Procedures;

For Group Work:  Within a group, members are allowed to divide up subsets of the project for which individuals will take the initial responsibility for coordinating efforts, but it is assumed that by the time a group turns in a writeup that all members have read, discussed, and understand all parts of what is being turned in.  Group members may even discuss general ideas and strategies with members of other groups, but NOT share parts of actual written work.  At a minimum, to be safe, put away all written notes and writing materials and recording devices before having any intergroup conversations.  And if you still see a “gray area,” play it safe and ask the instructor!


Professionalism and Civility: Along with basic standards of courtesy and citizenship (e.g., “Student Conduct” and “Disruptive Acts Policy” in the UTEP Catalog), students in this course are required to exhibit professionalism and to support a constructive, collegial, collaborative classroom culture where critique is focused respectfully on the intellectual merit of a position, not on the person expressing it. Do not engage in side conversations when one person (me, or another student) is talking to the whole class; do not engage in phone, email or text conversations during class. If you are truly expecting an urgent call on your cell phone or pager, please let me know and sit near the door to minimize disruption (and have your phone on “vibrate” instead of anything loud), and have it handy so you don’t have to dig through a backpack for it). Otherwise, please keep your phone off during class.  (Feel free to give your family member or child care provider the phone number for the Bell Hall ACES lab station, 747-8814, so you can rest assured that staff can quickly let you know if there is a emergency.)

Finally, be open to local opportunities for professional growth and sharing.  For example, consider attending or presenting at the 2010 UTEP SACNAS Research Expo (probably April), the GEPCTM conference (probably March 13), or the SUN Conference (March 4-5). Also, encourage K-12 students to develop their research skills by entering their local science fair or the ASA Competitions (by April 1: And consider joining (at cheaper rates while you’re a student!) math ed professional organizations at local (GEPCTM), state (TCTM), or national levels (NCTM or ASA). 


Attendance:  Attendance is required and taken each meeting using a sign-in sheet and is very important considering that much of this course involves beyond-the-book discussions that are virtually impossible to recreate on one’s own. The instructor may count late arrival, early departure, or blatant nonparticipation as a half-absence or even a full absence, depending on what is missed.  If you miss an exam without a documented strong excuse (e.g., a doctor’s note) relayed to me at the earliest opportunity, the score will be a 0. In general (out of fairness and logistics), late work will not be accepted and is subject to a penalty in the rare case that it is. 

It’s your responsibility to….

(1) Let me know by email (Lesser (at) or voicemail (747-6845) or daytime math dept. fax (747-6502) at the earliest opportunity if you have a situation which may affect a major assessment deadline or multiple regular class meetings.  

(2) Give me a written note or email by the 15th day of the semester (Feb. 8) if you will have absence for religious holy days (which are excused, of course).  

(3) Give me a written note or email as soon as possible if you anticipate the possibility of missing large parts of class due to exceptional circumstances such as military service/training or childbirth.

(4) Have a classmate give you copies of notes, handouts and announcements if you miss a class; write down at least 2 classmates’ contact information right here for this purpose:


classmate #1 name_____________________ phone_____________ email____________


classmate #2 name_____________________ phone_____________ email____________


classmate #3 name_____________________ phone_____________ email____________


As the UTEP Catalog says, “When in the judgment of the instructor, a student has been absent to such a degree as to impair his or her status relative to credit for the course, the instructor may drop the student from the class with a grade of “W” before the course drop deadline [April 2] and with a grade of “F” after the course drop deadline.”  To be specific, having 3 or more unexcused absences may result in an instructor-initiated drop.  On a positive note, excellent attendance can actually improve your grade, as you can see by the formula under “Grades.”


Disabilities: If you have or believe you have a disability that will require accommodations or modifications, you may wish to self-identify by contacting the Disabled Student Services Office (DSSO; 747-5148; East Union Building room 106;; to show documentation or register for testing and services.  DSSO will ask you to discuss needed accommodations with me within the first 2 weeks of the semester or as soon as disability is known, and at least 5 working days before an exam.  You are responsible for making sure I receive any DSS accommodation letters and instructions.  DSSO provides note taking, sign language, interpreter, reader and/or scribe services, priority registration, adaptive technology, diagnostic testing for learning disabilities, assistance with learning strategies/tutoring, alternative testing location and format, and advocacy.  Information provided to DSSO is kept confidential.



is a webpage of resources for research that I maintain for classes like this; it includes links for literature search resources, a glossary, and how to get approval to conduct (local) research.