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Mission Moments: Dr. Amanda Hager, MathBridge, CalcBridge Instructor

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Contrary to popular belief, math can be a fun, creative outlet. In fact, some of the world’s biggest mysteries can be solved through mathematical applications. That’s a lesson students learn right from the start in Dr. Hager’s first-year math courses at UT Austin.

Rather than sitting through long lectures and grinding through assignments, Dr. Hager’s students are finding creative ways to find solutions for complex questions. Whether they’re drawing graphs and charts or sparking theoretical debates in classroom discussions, students are discovering the endless possibilities of math.

We caught up with Hager, a lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, to learn more about her teachings, and how she’s helping high school students discover their mathematical talents in two dual-credit programs, MathBridge and CalcBridge. In addition to getting an edge in their studies, students are also gaining confidence in their ability to succeed in a challenging UT-level course. Visit the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships website to learn more about these two Pre-College Academic Readiness programs.

What are some questions that are often explored in your class? Could you give some examples?

What would life be like if we were a two-dimensional race of creatures instead of three-dimensional? And what does studying that have to tell us about the shape of the universe? Is it really a 3-D blob forever expanding, or is like a 3-D version of a donut? We don’t know. What is graph theory? And how does that matter to Southwest Airlines and Amazon as they ferry passengers and products all around the world? How could we know that there are two giant trees that have exactly the same number of leaves at any given moment? Math tells us that.

How are your students—even non-math majors—learning how to have fun with numbers?

One thing that I think is lovely about our MathBridge course is that it’s not a typical math course where you listen to a lecture and then prove example after example, followed by a body of 15 homework exercises. Instead, the teacher will pose a question, and students will explore possible solutions. And a lot of times, those questions will be messy and there will be multiple solutions—or maybe none at all—and they’ll get to argue back and forth. And when they write up their proofs, it’s not all about showing their work and including units. Students can express themselves and be creative with drawings, paragraphs—it doesn’t matter. They have the mathematical ability to study all of these wonderful, exciting mathematical ideas.

How are you working to bridge the graduation gap in STEM disciplines?

We’re certainly seeing an increased interest from students from all different kinds of backgrounds in STEM disciplines. But there’s a problem; there’s a graduation gap. Students from underserved schools who choose to major in STEM fields are graduating at much lower rates than those from more affluent schools. So I believe there is a role for me to help students thrive in college and graduate in their intended major.

Could you tell us about CalcBridge, a new dual-credit program that launched in 2017?

CalcBridge is bringing the successful model of UT into the high school classroom. This isn’t practical, everyday math. It isn’t death by word problems. It’s a rich, amazing tour through current and active mathematical fields—things that people are researching right now.

What I love about this program is that students are getting the full calculus experience and walking away with eight hours of calculus credit at the end, and they don’t have to take a high-stakes test. Plus, they can say they have taken a calculus class at UT.

Posted by Seamus Gude