On teacher Jason Adler’s desk in his classroom sits a little urn labeled “Ashes of Problem Students.” Not far from those student ashes is a “Bribe Bank,” for high schoolers who might think there’s another way to get the hypothetical “A.”

Adler’s easygoing personality and his affinity for fun make him a natural teacher. But when it comes to his own academic studies, he’s a no-nonsense educator.

Adler, a summa cum laude math undergraduate and a math teacher at Southport High School near Indianapolis, earned his first graduate degree in education to qualify for his school corporation’s financial incentive. The degree also qualified him to teach dual credit, which he began doing in 2015. When the Higher Learning Commission raised its requirements for teaching dual credit, Adler began looking for the graduate program that would deliver the courses he needed.

Programs Downtown Were Not Ideal

“Living outside of Indianapolis, I could have chosen from a few on-site programs downtown, but the drive time and course availability did not seem ideal,” says Adler, who ultimately decided on Ball State’s online master’s in math education, with a secondary school teachers track.

“The program is 100 percent online, with a mixture of real-time courses—usually in the evening—and asynchronous courses,” he says, referring to online courses that he can access around his school day and family time. “Even the real-time courses are recorded so they can be viewed at a time that works better for me.”

Creates Comfortable Environment

Adler is serious about the time he invests in making his classes demanding but enjoyable.

“I think what students enjoy most about my class is the environment,” he says. “Expectations are high, but I establish a comfort level which allows students to be willing to take risks, make mistakes and even get wrong answers without fear of embarrassment.”

One of his favorite routines is transitioning between test day and introducing new material, dedicating part of a class period to using lateral thinking puzzles as “brain teasers.”

“[Students] are allowed to ask ‘yes and no’ questions to work together to figure out what is going on in the situation I described to them,” he says. “They feel like they are getting away with not doing any math, but I believe they are practicing valuable problem-solving skills in a way they enjoy.”

Graduate education has helped make Adler a creative educator.

A Program with Options

He thinks part of the appeal of Ball State’s online master’s in math education is its many options.

“Asynchronous classes can be worked around any schedule. Courses can be taken two at a time, to finish in two years, or spread out over a span of three years if needed,” says Adler, who can sound like a program recruiter for the master’s in math. “Most courses are also available multiple years in a row, which is convenient for scheduling purposes.”

Ball State Provides Balance for Teachers

He’s confident of what the university’s past is providing students who are teachers today.

“Being a historically teacher-centered college,” says Adler, “Ball State understands the balance teachers are trying to strike between our careers, our home lives, and our course work.”