Leitze: Students Need Faculty Relationships to Make a Connection

Ann Leitze seated in an office with laptop

For just one student in North Dakota, Ann Leitze, professor of mathematical sciences and graduate advisor, began teaching online.

In the fall of 2009, she chose to admit the student and teach in a hybrid format, virtually to her online student and face-to-face to main-campus students. Her goal was to grow the online MA in mathematics education. Today, she routinely has 85-90 students enrolled online each semester in the MA’s three concentrations, two graduate certificates, and another MA.

“Without a relationship with the professor and classmates, many [students] do not feel comfortable reaching out to the professor—or classmates—for help.”

Led by Lifelong Love of Learning

“Having online math programs available is absolutely necessary for Indiana math educators to pursue graduate study,” Ann says, noting that a “lifelong love of learning” drew her to graduate study and eventually teaching at the university level.

She says about 50 percent of her graduate students are Indiana teachers. “For many years, Indiana teachers pursuing graduate study were few and far between,” she recalls. Although she sees progress, she thinks a need remains for teachers with advanced degrees.

Ann is proud of the success in growing Ball State’s graduate math education program, which offers concentrations for elementary and middle school mathematics teachers, secondary school teachers, and elementary or middle school mathematics education specialists as well as the master’s in foundational mathematics teaching in the community college.

License for Specialists Approved

She’s happy to report that the third concentration, for elementary or middle school mathematics education specialists, was recently approved by the State of Indiana as the only program in the state leading to a new Indiana license for elementary mathematics specialists.

As graduate advisor for math education, she wants online students to know that professors support them.

Says Relationships Required

“Without a relationship with the professor and classmates, many of them do not feel comfortable reaching out to the professor—or classmates—for help,” she says.

Ann says she sets high standards for her students.

“I challenge them to perform to their full capacity,” she says. “I want my students not only to have an understanding of mathematics at the appropriate level, but also to have familiarity with appropriate models and methods for teaching mathematics.”

Believes Her Role is Mentoring, Modeling

She believes her primary professional role includes both mentoring and modeling.

“I push myself to model best teaching practices for both students and junior faculty,” she says.

Earlier in her Ball State career, Ann led the Elementary Urban Semester, working with K-12 teachers in underprivileged schools. Designed to integrate science and mathematics at the elementary school and university levels, the program received the 2002 School Science and Mathematics Association Award for Excellence in Integrating Science and Mathematics and the 2004 American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Best Practice Award in Support of Diversity.

Master’s in Math Student Creates Comfort Level in His Classroom

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.”

Master’s in Math Education Student Looks to International Classroom

Toni Hillman is a part time student in Ball State’s online master’s in mathematics education. With some stints in international classrooms behind her, she recently signed a contract to teach 6th-grade math at the American School of Milan. As part of her teaching approach with 8- to 12-year-olds, she makes it a priority to help them overcome fears and anxieties in mathematics so they can develop positive, mathematical mindsets.

“I was so well-prepared for my interview due to my recent course work!”

Q: Why a master’s degree in mathematics?

A: I had already completed Ball State’s 15-credit leadership in mathematics certificate, and I decided it was “now or never” to complete a full master’s degree. This was prompted by the fact that I began teaching internationally in 2015 in Dakar, Senegal. For many of the international schools, a math degree is required to secure the work visa for a teaching mathematics position. Also, the job market in Europe is quite competitive.

Q: How has your education impacted your professional life?

A: Just recently I signed a permanent 2-year contract teaching 6th grade math at the American School of Milan starting 2018-2019. I was so well-prepared for my interview due to my recent course work, and I am so excited to teach all math again!

When I was earning my graduate certificate for high ability education at Ball State, I learned many new ideas during the Creativity course. That year I had a particularly difficult, hard-to-motivate group of elementary students. However, when I used some of the ideas from the Creativity course, my students responded in amazing ways. They loved acting out concepts, debating, and learning in ways I had never tried. I realized the problems I’d been experiencing weren’t completely the fault of the students. I needed to consider alternate ways for this group to learn. The Creativity course opened my eyes to new, out-of-the-box strategies for getting my students engaged and thinking!

Q: What is it like teaching mathematics in another country?

I taught two years at an international school in Senegal. Our students came from 50 plus countries, so there were many cultures in each classroom. Prior to working in Senegal, I was at an independent school for high ability students, and I had so many students there who loved math. When teaching internationally, what struck me most in both the 3rd grade class and the 5th grade class that I taught was that many of the students disliked math. The students had been “doing math” most of their school lives via workbooks, and so problem-solving skills were very weak. I definitely felt a difference in attitudes towards math. My second year at the school, some of us had shelved the Everyday Math workbooks in favor of more investigative math. I will always remember one of my students exclaiming, “I never knew math could be so fun!”

Q: Can you highlight an example of how you engaged your international students in mathematics?

A: A colleague and I began a grade 4/5 Math Olympiads team after school. This had never been offered in the past, and we were thrilled to have almost 20 students participating each year.  Our goal for the students was to build perseverance. We focused on metacognition, stamina, and recognizing various types of problems that commonly appear in math competitions. I think, in our two years of doing this after-school math team, we provided some much-needed enrichment for the students. Many carried with them the skills and perseverance they developed in this class on to middle school. The middle school math teachers often commented on it.



Alumna Bethany Singer is Math Ready

Kindergarten teacher Bethany Singer says the education she received from Ball State gave her a foundation to teach math to students of all ages. Her master of arts in foundational mathematics teaching in the community college helped her shift her career in the direction she wanted.

“The classes were filled with teaching techniques that I could take back and use in my class immediately.”

Budget cuts facilitate change

After eight satisfying years of teaching middle school math at Byron Center Public Schools in southwestern Michigan, state budget cuts eliminated team teaching arrangements, resulting in longer school days, larger class rosters, and burnout for Bethany Singer.

Certified in early childhood education, she was asked to fill a teaching position in the kindergarten. Because she missed interacting with older students, Singer also found the opportunity to teach college algebra in the evenings at a local university. But after serving as an adjunct for two years, she needed a master’s degree to continue teaching at the college level.

“That was a major piece of my decision to pursue a master’s degree in math education,” says Singer.

Affordability was a factor

Affordability played a consideration in her degree search. “Ball State was very reasonably priced compared to other online programs I found,” she says.

Another factor was the feasibility of pursuing a degree with the other demands in her world.

“Working full time and being a wife and mother to two boys in elementary school required quite a bit of juggling,” says Singer, who considered only online programs before enrolling in Ball State.

Professor helped with publication

Singer says her professors were great mentors.

“The classes that Dr. Ann Leitze taught were filled with teaching techniques that I could take back and use in my class immediately,” says Singer.

After a course in which Singer and her classmates created problem-solving opportunities to use in their respective classrooms, Leitze worked with her grad students to get their project published in a national publication for math teachers.

“When a college student, middle school student, second grader, or kindergartener is in my classroom, they become a part of me,” she says. “The education I received at Ball State University has provided me with an incredible foundation to reach students at any age.”

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