For (much) detail beyond the executive summary on
Dr. Lawrence(Larry) Lesser
Updated November 2017
precollegiate education after 1st grade was in Houston ISD public schools, including Bellaire HS
B.A. in Mathematics / Mathematical Sciences from Rice University
M.S. in Statistics from the University of Texas at Austin
Also did all UT coursework for a statistics PhD and have credit for Society of Actuaries' Exams 100,110,120 (i.e., Course 1, plus 35 prof. dev. units)
Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Texas at Austin
My research program is situated in mathematics education and includes a specialized focus on statistics education, an area still rapidly growing in size and importance with the ever-increasing need for all citizens to gain statistical literacy, reasoning and thinking in our information age. Because mathematics and statistics have been shown to be frequently associated with anxiety, difficulty, and disinterest among secondary and postsecondary students, and because of the extra responsibility of making sure that the pre-service and in-service teachers we teach will not reinforce negative attitudes, the driving interest behind my research has been to develop and assess ways to make mathematics/statistics more intuitive, engaging, and meaningful to students. Over my career, my statistics/mathematics education scholarship has clustered into foci of engagement, teacher knowledge, intuition, and curriculum, and equity.
Since 2006, one of my biggest research projects has been an exploration of issues English language learners encounter in learning statistics. My initial case study of pre-service teachers conducted with Illinois State’s Matthew Winsor is reported in the November 2009 Statistics Education Research Journal (a top-tier journal with a 10% acceptance rate) and quantitative followup work with statistician Amy Wagler, a colleague in linguistics, and one of my master’s thesis advisees appeared in the November 2013 issue. A study (of a corpus of language in statistics textbooks) co-authored with Wagler, an undergraduate student and a graduate student is http://jtw.sagepub.com/content/45/1/31.full.pdf+html and our further papers on this topic include https://www.editlib.org/p/150682/, http://icots.info/9/proceedings/pdfs/ICOTS9_C273_WAGLER.pdf, http://iase-web.org/documents/SERJ/SERJ15(2)_Lesser.pdf, and a paper to appear in the May 2018 SERJ. Our overall ELL and language research (see http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/lesser/ELL.html) is related to a larger scholarly focus I have on equity issues.
My scholarship on engagement in mathematics/statistics classrooms includes not only conceptual papers on specific modalities (e.g., mathematics/statistics and song, statistics and magic, (scientific) skateboarding and (mathematical) music), but also big picture overviews, empirical survey research on instructor motivations and hesitations, NSF-funded randomized experiments, and a qualitative case study on classroom usage. See http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/lesser/Fun.html
I’ve long been intrigued by what students find intuitive and counterintuitive. My dissertation articulated a framework for the selection and role of counterintuitive introductory statistics scenarios that motivate and engage the intuition and serve as rich vehicles for multiple representations/perspectives. In subsequent empirical survey research (published in Teaching Statistics and in Induzioni), I found that college students starting an introductory statistics course showed highly significant positive correlation between interest in and surprise with respect to true statistical statements in lay language. This result suggests that counterintuitive scenarios such as Simpson’s Paradox may motivate more than they demoralize, and these ideas also relate to my involvement in an NSF CCLI grant in engineering education, which led to a major JSE paper (that won the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award given at the 2012 International Sun Conference on Teaching and Learning). I have also explored the intuitiveness or counterintuitiveness of several particular scenarios/topics such as one-way ANOVA, disjunctive event probability (e.g., how many people it takes to have at least a 50% chance of at least 2 people in the room being born on the same day of the year), weighted averages (e.g., the ambiguity of finding ‘average class size’), and Simpson’s Paradox (i.e., a comparison can be reversed upon aggregation; understanding this phenomenon is listed by the National Council on Education and the Disciplines (2001) as an essential for citizenship, and plays a big role in understanding observed association between variables). My 2001 NCTM Yearbook chapter on multiple representations (of Simpson’s Paradox) has recently received a fresh wave of attention, as evidenced by its being listed in several years as one of the very most downloaded articles out of the hundreds on the world’s premier statistics literacy website. I have also published refereed research papers (e.g., in Psychology of Mathematics Education – North America Proceedings and in Texas Mathematics Teacher) on issues related to choosing a sequence of representations.
Another major research project (we published in Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership) used mixed methods and item analysis to explore connections between student knowledge and teacher knowledge with a group of middle school teachers in a sustained professional development project funded by a Texas Education Agency grant I was awarded (with Mourat Tchoshanov) and extensions of this work were published in Educational Studies in Mathematics. Other papers have explored other aspects of middle school teacher background, including TPACK, and conceptual understanding of properties of the median (https://ww2.amstat.org/publications/jse/v22n3/lesser.pdf). I’m also on a team that developed the first instrument to measure statistics teaching efficacy (see http://www.memphis.edu/sets/) and our publications to date include: (http://jpa.sagepub.com/content/32/1/40.full.pdf+html , https://ww2.amstat.org/publications/jse/v23n1/harrell-williams.pdf, and http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0734282917735151)
My ability to write curriculum informed by the latest education research recommendations has led to textbook writing. I co-authored the 1998 McGraw-Hill text ACT in Algebra: Applications, Concepts and Technology in Learning Algebra, which lets applications (not definitions) launch the mathematics, incorporates modeling and technology appropriately, emphasizes conceptual understanding as well as computational skill, and has realistic acknowledgement of the role of factoring-dependent methods. In 2007, I was invited to succeed former ASA president (and Founder’s Award winner) David S. Moore on the distinguished Freeman/COMAP author team to prepare the 8th (2009) and 9th (2013) editions of the applied math-for-liberal-arts textbook For All Practical Purposes and I had sole responsibility for its four statistics chapters. While I stepped down from the project in order to have the time to direct my university’s teaching center, the current (10th) edition obviously still contains a great deal of my contributions.
Much of my research and scholarship connects to grants. I am PI of NSF TUES (formerly, CCLI) Type 1 grant proposals, including the funded Project UPLIFT (August 2012-July 2016) that designed and tested research-based classroom-tested items aiming to engage and support student learning of introductory statistics (e.g., see 2015 TD and 2016 JSE papers). In September 2015, I landed an NSF EAGER grant Project SMILES as PI that using an interdisciplinary collaborative to create a set of interactive educational songs that will be assessed with a randomized experiment to assess how well the songs reduce student anxiety and increase learning of introductory statistics, and dissemination throughout STEM is being supported through VOICES. My past research in the area of standards and alignment led to my being PI of a 2008 award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to co-chair a Statewide Discipline-Based Vertical Team conducting gap analysis between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and the Texas College Readiness Standards and I was invited to present the findings as an invited featured solo presentation at the 2008 Charles A. Dana Center statewide Annual Mathematics and Science Higher Education Conference. Also, I shared equally the writing and PI roles with M. Tchoshanov on a six-figure “Improving Student Achievement in Mathematics through Professional Development Partnerships Grant” funded by the Texas Education Agency for 2005-2007: “Evidence-based Middle-school Mathematics Achievement Program,” and our work yielded my invited half-plenary presentation at the 2006 Charles A. Dana Center’s Annual Mathematics and Science Higher Education Conference and a juried paper in Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership. Since 2006, I have served as co-director/co-PI of over a quarter-million dollars’ worth of Teacher Quality grants (2 with M. Tchoshanov and 1 with O. Kosheleva). I have also done key subaward work as part of other people’s grants, including an NSF CCLI Phase 2 grant, a Carnegie Foundation Teachers for a New Era grant, Department of Education (Project ACE and Project LEAP-UP) grants, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board grants SABE MAS and Master Teacher Academy) and the National Science Foundation-funded El Paso (with the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence) Mathematics Science Partnership, including a multi-year research/outreach/professional development partnership with UTEP colleagues at an EPISD school which has achieved recognitions such as Gold Performance Acknowledgement (in Dec. 2005) for being in the top quartile in improvement in passing rate on the math TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test. Throughout 2013, I served as a co-PI (with education researchers Song An and Daniel Tillman, and ethnomusicologist Andrea Shaheen) on a $20,000 Interdisciplinary Research (IDR) grant to research the impacts of preservice/inservice K-8 mathematics teachers’ use of music composition and musical instrument design as an authentic context for teaching mathematics.
Having spent most of my career in departments of mathematical sciences, I am in many ways a “mathematical scientist’s math educator.” Part of this refers to my strong mathematics/statistics content background/experience, which includes all coursework for a statistics PhD and work experience beyond academia as a statistician (which informs my article in the October 2012 Mathematics Teacher, for example) before I entered the mathematics education PhD program. Also, my strong content roots have clearly flavored my scholarship in terms of my instinct and passion for rigor, aesthetics, optimizing, parsimony, discovery, merging or creating areas, etc. Mathematics or statistics content has frequently informed the development of my research questions in mathematics/statistics education. Along the way, I have made contributions to “mathematical knowledge for teaching” (Hill, Schilling, & Ball, 2004), a specific aspect of mathematics content that would be useful in a classroom situation – such as my NCTM Yearbook chapter on multiple representations of Simpson’s paradox (and the smallest dataset exhibiting the paradox, which led to a followup problem in School Science and Mathematics), my Mathematics Teacher paper that models the Birthday Problem, my Teaching Statistics paper offering (with proof) the smallest simple dataset that yields distinct basic summary statistics, my 2010 Mathematics Teacher paper on average class size which includes proofs of special cases and more general mathematical conjectures, and my co-authored PRIMUS paper on a number theory result sparked by exploring fraction arithmetic. I have written with distinguished mathematical scientists (e.g., textbook with COMAP authors; several papers with statisticians (e.g., Dennis Pearl, Amy Wagler, Mark Glickman, etc.), a paper with mathematician Joe A. Guthrie, and I now have a couple of pathways with 4 as my Erdös number. And counting the FAPP college textbook that Alan D. Taylor and I were among its authors brings my Erdös number down to 2!
The above paragraph notwithstanding, I can also be described as having a liberal arts sensibility, beyond co-authoring a major liberal arts math textbook (For All Practical Purposes) and publishing in Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, and Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences. In addition to conducting various empirical quantitative/qualitative studies, I research ways to make mathematics/statistics more meaningful to students (and connected to the educational environment), using the depth and breadth of my background to find or make bridges between the literatures of mathematics, statistics, mathematics education, statistics education, and a variety of other realms (e.g., lotteries, music, ethics, social justice, culture/ethnomathematics, diversity, and contemplative pedagogy). These papers, especially in subareas where there is little prior work, are often integrative syntheses or critical reviews of a theoretical, foundational, developmental, philosophical or historical/cultural nature. My scholarship has spilled over into creative published forms such as songs, poems, humor, and appearances on radio/TV. This interdisciplinary sensibility often leads to my publishing the first and/or most definitive/comprehensive articles (see list of papers) on several particular intersections of topics, including: statistics education and English language learners, multiple representations and Simpson’s Paradox, statistics education and philosophical ethics, statistics education and social justice, Jewish culture and (ethno)mathematics, mathematics and song, statistics and song, statistics and magic, statistics education and fun, and statistics and mnemonics, and statistics and contemplative pedagogy. Co-authors of my papers span many disciplines besides mathematics/statistics education, including: mathematics, statistics, linguistics, bilingual education, philosophy, psychology, sociology, neuroscience, educational technology, business administration, and music.
I’ve had refereed/peer-reviewed papers accepted in a variety of highly-selective (with acceptance rates as low as 10%) and selective juried research publications (e.g., Statistics Education Research Journal, Journal of Statistics Education, Proceedings of the International Conference on Teaching Statistics, Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership, Adults Learning Mathematics International Journal, Journal of Mathematics Education, Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, Proceedings of the North-American Psychology of Mathematics Education conference, Proceedings of the International Association of Statistical Education satellite conference, Journal of Mathematics and Culture, Model Assisted Statistics and Applications, Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, Journal of Technical Writing and Communication, Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal, Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, and the NCTM Yearbook) as well as in a variety of periodicals designed to reach a larger audience that includes non-researcher educators (e.g., Teaching Statistics, Primus, Mathematics Teacher, ON-Math: Online Journal of School Mathematics, Statistics Education Web: Online Journal of K-12 Statistics Lesson Plans, Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching, Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, Statistics Teacher Network, Stats, Spreadsheet User, Technological Horizons in Education Journal, Notices of the North American Study Group in Ethnomathematics, and items in cross-disciplinary journals (e.g., Journal for the Liberal Arts and Sciences, Transformative Dialogues: Teaching and Learning Journal) and periodicals in pedagogy or educational development (To Improve the Academy, The Teaching Professor, Faculty Focus, Teaching Tolerance, and International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning). I’ve also had a half dozen academic book chapters in books published by Springer, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Rowman & Littlefield, and Skye’s the Limit Publishing.
My 135+ presentations at national/international conferences include the International Conference on Teaching Statistics, the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics, International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Mathematical Association of America (winter & summer meetings), North American chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, Association for Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, Joint Statistical Meetings (American Statistical Association), International Conference on Education, Labor & Emancipation, Conference on Math Education and Social Justice, Lineae Terrarum: International Borders Conference, Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators, National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, Working Class/Poverty Class Academics Conference, the Sun Conference on Teaching and Learning, the Advanced Placement Conference, Research Council on Mathematics Learning, and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Research Presession, the Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics, and the Bridges Conference on Mathematics, Music, Art, Architecture, and Culture. The most exotic place I’ve presented was probably Marrakesh, Morocco, where my ICOTS talk was translated in real time over headphones into French (and I gave an invited paper at 2010 ICOTS in Ljubljana, Slovenia!). I have given invited featured plenary presentations at national, regional, and local meetings, including the opening plenary speaker for the 2009 NCTM regional conference in Nashville and the featured banquet presenter at the 2013 United States Conference on Teaching Statistics and the Mathematical Association of America’s 2008 MathFest. I’ve given 50+ presentations (including 9 plenary/keynote talks) at regional/statewide conferences (including Western Statistics Teachers' Conference, Georgia Mathematics Conference, California Mathematics Council Community Colleges South, Regional National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conferences, Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching, Bilingual Educators Emphasizing and Mastering Standards conference, Mathematical Association of America, and Teachers Teaching with Technology, and the Charles A. Dana Center’s Annual Mathematics and Science Higher Education Conference). I have also given invited colloquium talks at schools and universities (e.g., University of Arizona) in over a dozen states and even overseas (the Technion in Haifa, Israel). During my time at AASU, I also gave several university-wide presentations (e.g., President's Symposium on Teaching and Learning, Robert Ingram Strozier Faculty Lecture Series, Scholarship of Teaching RoundTable, Women's Studies Conference). Overall, my presentations have spanned many areas/topics, including: mentoring new teachers, education outreach, mathematics and music/song, mathematics/statistics and philosophy (including ethics), mathematics history, multiculturalism/diversity/gender equity, using the Internet, using mass media, standards-based mathematics and technology, assessment, goals of statistics education, algebraic reasoning in statistics, line of fit, student-collected data, capture/recapture methods, mathematics and science connections, careers in statistics, constructivism, misconceptions, counterintuitive examples, collaborative learning, qualitative research, algebra reform, conceptual understanding of functions, and multiple representations.
My scholarship and research background has naturally guided my service to the profession, including: service as a founding Editor (and now, an Associate Editor) of Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics (national journal of the NCTM affiliate TODOS: Mathematics for ALL), an Associate Editor of Journal of Statistics Education (an international journal of the American Statistical Association), an Associate Editor of Journal of Mathematics and Culture (international journal of the North American Study Group on Ethnomathematics), an Associate Editor of Model Assisted Statistics and Applications, an Editor of Noticias de TODOS: News from TODOS Mathematics for All, and an Editorial Board member of Texas Mathematics Teacher (Texas-wide refereed journal of Texas Council of Teachers of Mathematics). From spring 2013-summer 2016, I did the Assistant Editor work for the top-tier journal in statistics education: Statistics Education Research Journal, and upon the conclusion of my term, my successor was a team of people! Also, I have done invited refereeing of papers for many journals (e.g., Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Statistics Education Research Journal, Journal of Statistics Education, Technology Innovations in Statistics Education, Mathematics Teacher, and Teaching Statistics, Journal of Mathematics and Culture, Journal of Mathematics Education Leadership, Model Assisted Statistics and Applications, The American Statistician) and conferences (e.g., Psychology of Mathematics Education North American conferences, the International Conference on Teaching Statistics, and the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics). I have also served on program and other committees for various national or regional mathematics/statistics/education conferences (e.g., USCOTS, MAA, NCTM, Western Statistics Teachers' Conference, "Transitions in Qualitative Inquiry" seminar series) and (through a national election) served a 3-year term (2011-2013) as Publications Chair for the Statistical Education Section of the American Statistical Association. I was also chosen to serve a term on the Professional Development Services Committee of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. I was deeply honored to be recognized as a finalist for the 2001 Gladys M. Thomason Distinguished Service Award by the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics based on “distinguished service in the field of mathematics education at the local, regional, and state levels,” to receive a certificate of appreciation from TODOS founding President Miriam Leiva for “Exemplary contributions as a leader in TODOS: Mathematics for All 2006-07,” and to receive plaques in 2006 and 2010 from GEPCTM (Greater El Paso Council of Teachers of Mathematics) recognizing my “support and promotion of high-quality mathematics teaching and ongoing professional development throughout the preparation and careers of teachers of mathematics.” I served (2005-2009) on the RAB (Research Advisory Board) of CAUSE (Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education), have been mentoring local and non-local early-career researchers, served on the Program Committee of USCOTS 2007 (United States Conference on Teaching Statistics), and have been co-curating a “Fun” Resources Page and associated bi-annual national contest for CAUSEWeb. On the state level, I did invited service in 2008 as faculty chair of a Statewide Discipline-Based Vertical Team on college readiness for the THECB and the TEA. At UTEP, my service activities have included chairing the UTEP Museum Committee (for 3 years), editing the math department’s annual newsletter (MAXIMA, 2005–present), chairing the mathematics education PhD proposal program committee, and chairing the Mathematics Education Search Committee (which yielded the successful hire of the now-tenured Kien Lim).
TEACHING & RELATED EXPERIENCE
Through my education, my interest in mathematics was developed by involvement in extracurricular mathematics activities, including UIL Number Sense, Mu Alpha Theta, Atlantic Region Mathematics League (I competed at this national meet as a member of the Texas delegation), and Putnam exams (scoring as high as the 70th percentile nationwide). I learned there's much mathematics beyond our textbooks and that "recreational mathematics" is not an oxymoron! I was fortunate to have many excellent professors in college (e.g., Dr. Richard Tapia) who helped prepare me and inspire me to pursue graduate work. In my own teaching today, I strive similarly to give students high levels of challenge and support, broaden their view of how mathematics/statistics connects to other areas, and give them a view of how mathematics/statistics is done by real people in real life!
In graduate school, I took the usual “pure math” courses in analysis, topology and abstract algebra before taking my first statistics class, which fed my passion to use my mathematical background in a more applied way. I proceeded to earn a masters' degree in statistics, work as a statistical consultant on a test-equating psychometrics project with Carl Morris, teach (and coordinate) statistics for UT business majors, pass some actuary exams, and work for a couple of years as the sole staff statistician for the Texas Legislative Council (I helped research and implement methodology to estimate racial bloc voting for the redistricting project, a real-world experience of using mathematics outside academia that has given my classroom teaching additional authenticity). The professional tutoring I had done for a private company and various university departments and the non-tenure-track university teaching I was doing [by the time I earned my PhD, I had taught 16 classes -- mathematics and statistics, upper & lower-division -- at St. Edward's University (a Carnegie Master’s comprehensive Univ. II in Austin of 3000 students), Southwestern University (a baccalaureate liberal arts college in Georgetown, TX of 1200), and The University of Texas at Austin (a Carnegie Doct./Research Univ. Extensive of 50,000)] helped me realize that, while I greatly enjoyed acquiring my solid background in mathematics and statistics content, I had still greater talents, interests and calling in the areas of curriculum and instruction, finding ways to make important content more accessible and interesting. (an aside: be open not only to the possibility that your direction may evolve, but also to the idea that what you learn now may be useful later in unexpected ways!) I then pursued a PhD in Mathematics Education under Ralph Cain with the distinguished committee of Ray Carry, Charles Lamb, Maggie Myers, and Mary Parker, and with valuable encouragement from statistics educator (whose distinctions now include ASA Fellow, ASA Founders Award, and USCOTS Lifetime Achievement Award) Joan Garfield as well. I was the first student in the program to declare a specific focus (in terms of both dissertation and supporting coursework) in statistics education. It was (and still is) an exciting time for involvement in the areas of statistics education and mathematics education, which are growing rapidly, along with their overlap, and I’ve been able to be part of a “bridge” by remaining engaged with both fields and their literatures (e.g., I’ve published in ASA journals, NCTM journals, and joint ASA-NCTM journals!).
In 1993, a UT adult education course I
created and taught on the psychology and probability underlying the
then-months-old Texas Lottery attracted
coverage - from a story
spanning 37 column inches in the August 28 Austin American-Statesman
all the way to the lead "Dollars and Sense" segment throughout that
weekend's Cable News Network (CNN) Headline News! (Subsequent media
stories have often accompanied the times lotteries begin new games or amass
particularly big jackpots – see http://www.math.utep.edu/Faculty/lesser/TV.html
-- including interviews by Houston's KTRH-AM, Atlanta's WGST-AM, Houston’s KFNC-FM,
Austin's ABC-affiliate KVUE-TV, and national magazines Real Simple
and Bottom Line Retirement. I subsequently taught that class for the
Upon receiving my PhD, I began teaching and developing/reforming numerous courses (in statistics & statistics education, math & math education, math history, and research methodology) as an Assistant Professor for the mathematical sciences department of the University of Northern Colorado (a Carnegie Doctoral/Research extensive University of 10,000 students an hour north of Denver). While at UNC, I worked with middle/secondary in-service teachers, helped coordinate seminars & conferences, and supervised tutors, student teachers, undergraduate research and doctoral dissertations. As a key member of the Educational Mathematics PhD program, one of my accomplishments was developing doctoral courses such as one in qualitative research methods in math education. I was a faculty content person in the "NEXT STEP: K-12 and Higher Education Working Differently and Together" grant (funded by the CCHE) to explore creating a seamless K-16 standards-based alignment between high school exit standards and college entrance standards. I also taught and redesigned courses for pre-service and in-service teachers as part of the Rocky Mountain Secondary Teacher Enhancement Initiative in Mathematics and Rocky Mountain Teacher Education Collaborative NSF grants. As a member of the first year’s team for the competitively-selected CCHE-funded Educational Technology Improvement Project (1995-2000) at UNC, I gained experience in developing and implementing standards, performance-based assessments and rubrics (just as most states’ K-12 schools are required to implement) and was the first at UNC to integrate sustained, standards-based technology and reformed curriculum into the multi-section introductory statistics course. I was also active in the Colorado Council of Teachers of Mathematics (e.g., presentations and committee work for state/regional conferences), and was Vice-Chair of UNC's Professional Education Council. At UNC, I also did some administrative-type work such as coordinating multi-section introductory statistics courses, a university-wide tutoring lab, and programmatic assessment reports, and I have done some of this at other institutions as well.
In 1999, I began an Associate Professor position in the Department of Mathematics at Armstrong Atlantic State University (a comprehensive Carnegie Master's University I of 5500 students in the University System of Georgia) to renew and broaden further my mathematics education background, especially into the elementary school curriculum -- not only by teaching courses for pre-service elementary school teachers, but also by spending significant time in some local schools (from suburban to urban, such as Savannah's East Broad Street ES, where I spent 50+ hours), observing and working with several in-service teachers and teaching some lessons myself. I also worked with in-service teachers as part of an Eisenhower grant and delivered in-service teacher training workshops -- for individual schools as well as for larger educational organizations such as the AASU/Chatham County Public Schools Partnership Board, the Lowcountry Math and Science Hub, and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame & Museum! Also, I spent two of my five Armstrong years on special leave to strengthen my secondary mathematics education experiential base by working as a full-time high school math teacher (and department chair) at Emery HS. Emery’s advisory activities, outdoor learning, field trips, and strong community service component/mission gave me deeper insight into how to support and motivate “the whole person.” My experience there teaching a range of students (e.g., from the 35th to the 99th percentiles) and courses (Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II, Precalculus, Calculus) greatly enhanced my subsequent work with pre-service and in-service teachers and yielded a paper in Journal of Mathematics and Culture.
In 2004, I accepted an Associate Professor position in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso (an emerging national research university of 25,000+ students and 1000+ faculty) to have more opportunity for research and collaboration – with a critical mass of talented mathematics educators and science educators, statisticians and mathematicians in rich cultural and natural environments. During my tenure here as an Associate Professor – and now, Full Professor -- I’ve also enjoyed record opportunities to team teach in classroom and in field-based settings (e.g., an integrated block with COE faculty for UTEP pre-service teachers at Canutillo ES) as well as to co-write papers and grants. UTEP is a research-intensive doctoral university (the country’s only one with a Mexican-American majority student population) that is part of the University of Texas System (the nation’s second largest university system), where I began my teaching career in the ‘80s! Another attraction is that I have familial roots here, including relatives who taught for El Paso Community College and El Paso ISD (while at Zach White Elementary, my great aunt Matilda was a teacher of the year, and later organized the first education scholarship at UTEP for future teachers: the Matilda Amstater Shanblum Future Teacher Scholarship Fund).
My interactive, integrated style aims to give students of diverse backgrounds high levels of support and worthwhile challenge, to broaden their view of how real people do (and teach) mathematics that often connects to other areas, and to enhance their quantitative literacy. While my students do not always declare mathematics to be their favorite subject, they universally acknowledge that my enthusiasm and approachability makes the class a “safe environment” and allows them to experience greater enjoyment, interaction, meaning, and learning than they often had in prior mathematics classes. I appropriately draw from a broad pedagogical repertoire that includes manipulatives, technology (ranging from the Internet to EXCEL to data-collection devices), mass media, multiple representations, writing, traditional and alternative assessment, standards-based education, math history, equity/diversity awareness, cooperative learning activities, real-world applications and connections, literature, problem solving, student-collected data and the occasional mathematical magic trick or award-winning math song! I have done outreach events such as Pi Day educational events (at elementary, middle, and high schools), adult education classes in lottery literacy, and lessons for radio and TV! The following representative recent sample of narrative comments [taken from end-of-course evaluations from pre-service elementary teachers] show that I offer experiences that were both challenging and engaging: “I really liked that Dr. Lesser used various manipulatives, integrated other subjects with mathematics such as social studies, sang songs to us about mathematical concepts, related math to current events such as the presidential election, he also challenged us and had high expectations of his students.” “Very positive attitude and motivated us every class meeting.” “Made us think – that’s a good thing J” “The instructor’s style is very unique. He is always looking for things that make class fun, interesting AND educational.” “The assignments have been challenging and fun. He makes us look forward to seeing if our answers or assumptions were right or wrong.” My scholarship on engagement and my ability to write curriculum informed by the latest education research recommendations has led to major textbook writing projects, as noted in the scholarship section of this webpage.
My teaching innovations have resulted in recognitions from my institution and beyond. I was selected to serve as AASU's 2001 university-wide Arthur M. Gignilliat, Jr. Professor (AASU’s premier competitive faculty development award for innovative teaching). And I was selected as an IMPACT Fellow for the 2005-06 school year under the NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation for Faculty Diversity grant at UTEP to play a leadership role in developing new ways of integrating teaching, research and service. I was appointed in 2008 (representing the College of Science) to serve a 3-year term on the university-wide CETaL Council of Fellows. I was featured by my university to launch a podcast series (mine was on classroom voting) and was featured in the first issue of CETAL’s The Teaching Spotlight (fall 2012). Also, I had a piece published in the November 2010 issue of North America’s most widely-read pedagogical periodical for professors, The Teaching Professor. In recent education contest, I received first-place recognitions in the national “Quantitative Literacy in the Media” contest sponsored by QL-SIGMAA, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award at the 2012 International Sun Conference on Teaching and Learning, and the third-place award in a national lesson plan contest. Finally, I received the 2010 Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics award of the Southwestern Section of the Mathematical Association of America, a 2011 Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching from the UTEP College of Science, a 2011 UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, and in May 2016 was announced as winner of a 2016 Minnie Stevens Piper Professor Award (there were 10 winners out of all 150+ 2- and 4-year colleges in Texas).
In June 2013, I was named the 2013-14 Provost’s Faculty Fellow-in-Residence with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning(CETaL), which gave me the chance to engage with teaching matters on a campus-wide level and I directed CETaL (and its International Sun Conference on Teaching and Learning) from January 1, 2014 to fall/Sept. 2016, initiating resources for faculty formative feedback, peer observation, UTEP’s internal ROTA process, a pedagogical expertise database, and the scholarship of teaching and learning (including how it is tracked in Digital Measures).
I grew up in Houston and have also lived in Austin, Greeley (CO), Savannah (GA), and now El Paso. My family tree is full of people who supported education in Texas, such as my father’s mother Julia Lesser (who taught mathematics with distinction for over 25 years in the Fort Worth public schools; a former student of hers recently wrote my dad: “Your mother taught the girls we could be savvy in math right alongside the boys…your mother opened up the ordered universe for us. I can still see the chalk flying when she hit the board in a frenzy of excitement…..”) and her sister Sadie Streusand (a teacher and counselor in the Houston public schools), who turned me on to the enrichment of extracurricular mathematics organizations and contests. Also, my great aunt Matilda Amstater Shanblum was Teacher of the Year (and later an assistant principal) at El Paso’s Zach White Elementary (where her daughter Frances Kahn taught upper elementary grades for 13 years), director of the El Paso Teachers Association, and the person for whom the first education scholarship fund at UTEP for future teachers is named. The University of Houston’s highest faculty honor is named after another aunt: the Esther Farfel Award. My mother’s father Bernard Farfel was the visionary behind the founding (in 1963) of the Jewish Institute for Medical Research, which launched the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in the Baylor College of Medicine. My maternal uncle Barry Goodfriend MD was one of two alumni recipients of a 2017 Distinguished Service Award from the Baylor College of Medicine. I aim to continue honoring the memory of all of them with my service in the field.
Though I love my job (longest one and best one I’ve had!), I am more than my job. That is, I am also a guitarist, a songwriter, a spiritual seeker, a compassionate friend, a man who cherishes his soulmate, son, and dogs. With my son now in college, I now see higher education as a parent, as well as a professor and alumnus. I love to read, hike, and spend time with my family and friends. I’ve been published as a journalist, songwriter (I’ve had songs recorded on indie artists’ albums and won awards, including 2nd-place in the fall 2012 El Paso Songwriting Contest, at least one top-three song contest award in each of the three most recent A-mu-sing national contests held by the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education, 1st place in the National Museum of Mathematics’ “Pi Day of the Century” song contest in spring 2015 (and award-winning songs in the museum's fall 2015 and spring 2017 song contests), poet, and humorist. Of course, my “outside-the-job passions” like music or poetry sometimes find their way into my professional world anyway, which yields a more interesting and integrated life!
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