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Active Teaching

Written by Dean Forbes, Marketing Communications
January 27, 2015

Seattle University freshmen math students tutoring neighborhood elementary and middle school kids in the subject are not only providing an important community service but also building confidence in their own math abilities. 

Allison Henrich, associate professor of math in the College of Science and Engineering (right), organizes this unique learning experience that emboldens the college students and their younger counterparts alike.

"I have my students, who are often very afraid of math, go out and tutor little kids in math. It's super amazing for my students," said Henrich, who is also chair of the Mathematics Department at SU. "It really builds their confidence in their own math abilities." 

And, the tutoring service helps struggling youngsters in crowded classrooms get more help. 

The mission- and values-driven teaching method that goes beyond the classroom is one reason why the Mathematical Association of America has chosen Henrich to receive a prestigious 2015 Henry L. Alder Award for the quality of her undergraduate teaching. 

The annual award is given to no more than three higher-education faculty to "honor beginning college or university faculty whose teaching has been extraordinarily successful and whose effectiveness in teaching undergraduate mathematics is shown to have influence beyond their own classrooms," according to the MAA. To be eligible, a recipient must have taught full time in a mathematical science in the U.S. or Canada for at least two, but not more than seven, years since receiving a PhD. Henrich will formally receive the award this summer at MathFest 2015 in Washington, DC.

Henrich, who joined the university six years ago, was appointed department chair last June. In 2010, she developed her service-learning course as a way for students in her core quantitative reasoning course to engage with math. Students tutor at Bailey-Gatzert and Washington Middle School and Henrich's classes have formed new partnerships with community service agencies Horn of Africa and East Africa Community Services through SU's Center for Service and Community Engagement. 

Henrich embraces "active learning" techniques, which encompass just about anything that gets the teacher away from a traditional lecture-driven model. Specifically, she is interested in IBL (Inquiry-Based Learning) and POGIL (Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) techniques. In some classes, the POGIL methods she employs revolve around students discovering math concepts themselves in small groups with guided worksheets. 

A newer teaching method Henrich also uses involves dedicating 30 to 45 minutes of each 85-minute class with her students presenting homework problems. "On Monday, we learn something, I assign homework on the new material and then on Wednesday students have to volunteer to present these homework problems." Classmates critique the presentations, which leads to an active and engaged classroom. 

As a way of combining her teaching with scholarship, Henrich has mentored a number of undergraduate research projects. In 2014, she and her colleague, Steve Klee, PhD, submitted a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to start a summer math research program at Seattle University. Their grant has been recommended for funding, so they will continue to advise undergraduates in research through the Seattle University Mathematics Early Research (also known as SUMmER) program starting this summer. 

"Allison has added a lot of positive energy to the Department of Mathematics. In addition to being an excellent classroom teacher, she has demonstrated her ability to effectively mentor undergraduate student research projects," said Dean Michael Quinn, PhD, who added that many of Henrich's students co-authored papers have appeared in peer-reviewed journals.