Using math to power just-in-time classroom improvements

When you talk to mathematician Dr. Lindsey Daniels, there’s no doubt you’re talking to one of UBC Science’s new professors of teaching. She radiates excitement for her subject, combined with an affable and down-to-earth approach—which will be an advantage for the incoming Science One and mechanical engineering students she’ll be teaching at UBC.

It takes time for some people to find out what they love, but for Dr. Daniels' the math bug bit early.

"One of the fondest memories I have is doing the mad minute in grade five, a sheet with a hundred times tables on it, where you'd have a minute to do the entire sheet before you could move onto the next one." Dr. Daniels says. "I had a lot of fun doing those, but I think everyone else in the class didn’t like them."

To Dr. Daniels, math helps explain phenomena we all experience—it’s research that creates a link between how the world works and why it works that way.

At UBC, Dr. Daniels will be switching gears, focusing more on teaching—including using mathematical models to measure student success. "I'm really focused on how I use math in a way that allows me to get reliable information about my students and make changes in the classroom to promote their success."

She alludes to an introductory calculus course she taught in 2020. Classes were online at the time, and Dr. Daniels noticed that student performance would drop with each test. Her co-teaching team acted quickly to introduce bonus assignments in class that asked students to answer affirming questions like, “Tell us something you did this term that made you proud.”

“There is some research to support that asking affirmation questions before large assessments results in an increase in performance from students,” says Dr. Daniels. Her team did a qualitative analysis of the answers and found certain themes show up in student responses.  Being able to work with the data to provide resources for students helped the students achieve in their classes.

Getting the student feedback during the term is much more useful than assessments at the end of term. Regular feedback helps her figure out what works with a particular cohort of students and what their specific needs are in real time.

When asked if she faced any challenges to get to where she is today, she pauses for a bit before replying: "This isn't a question that gets asked a lot, but it's an important one. For me, following the math trajectory meant that I was often the only woman in the room."

Women’s experience in mathematics can be isolating. Historically, there has been a shortage of female role models to look up to. The lack of acknowledgement of women’s contributions, as well as encouragement for women to enter math professions is still being rectified today.

Dr. Daniels has had to remind herself to fight doubts. "I've had to remind myself that I am qualified and I deserve to be here." She hopes other women can feel the same, having advocated for women in math since her days as a student.

To Dr. Daniels, representation goes beyond bolstering numbers on a school roster. It impacts how math is taught in class and how research is done. Diversity allows for different perspectives on how to approach and solve problems. Math may appear like a set of logical rules, but there are many preconceptions that go into deciding what to study, how to set up a problem, and how to approach solving a problem.

"When you're setting up your research problem, you can spend months reading different papers, talking to research groups, asking questions, and learning about different approaches. Getting different perspectives makes your research and teaching stronger."

Related Links:

Dr. Lindsey Daniels' faculty profile at UBC Math


  • Mathematics
  • Faculty Profile

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