May 04, 2009

College of Teacher Ed's Larson earns faculty achievement award

Posted: May 04, 2009

Sue Larson's popular and successful teaching style is centered on fun in the classroom and caring about her students.

It is said that math is something you will use every day of your life.  Be it checking coupons at the grocery store, figuring how much gas it will take to get to the family reunion, or even how many more games it will take before the Sun Devils clinch the Pac-10 baseball title, math and mathematical formulas are at the forefront of our daily activities.

Sue Larson, an elementary education senior lecturer in Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL), has found another use for math – to earn a prestigious 2009 university Faculty Achievement Award for excellence in classroom performance and undergraduate instruction.  She will be recognized with other faculty winners in a ceremony presided over by ASU President Michael Crow and Provost Elizabeth Capaldi.

“I am wowed and honored to be recognized by the university for excellence in classroom performance, says Larson, who has been a lecturer at ASU since 2003 and was promoted to senior status earlier this year.  “I know how many amazing teachers there are just at CTEL, so to be chosen to represent the university in this category is quite overwhelming.”

Just as overwhelming are the winning reviews she has received from students and local teachers who have benefited from her math instruction and coaching.  She has earned praised for her student-centered, practical approach that blends a focus of learning with fun in the classroom.

“Professor Larson almost naturally seems to create a positive energy in the classroom, and has the entire class participating and learning together,” wrote one student on a recent student evaluation form.  “ I have learned so much from this class, I wish she was my math teacher in elementary school.”

Kelly Gray, a kindergarten teacher at Liberty Elementary School in nearby Buckeye, was enrolled in a 30-hour math institute last summer to learn a new approach to teaching math.  It was Larson who conducted the “camp,” providing best practices for teaching the subject.  She says Larson changed the way math is taught within the five-school Liberty Elementary School District.
“She challenged me after 18 years to put our textbooks aside and use our state standards as our guide,” says Gray.  “Sue is so motivating and she draws you in with her enthusiasm and knowledge of math.  I followed her lead and our students are excelling beyond our imagination.

“She has energized me and inspired me to teach math in a new way, and math is now fun and exciting.”

Larson, who earned her B.S. in math from Bucknell University and her M.S. in education at Fitchburg State College, says her fascination with all types of puzzles led her down the mathematics path.  Her acclaimed teaching style is a mix of influences.  Her husband, Karl, who retired after 28 years of teaching social studies in Massachusetts, has played a prominent role, she says.

“He taught me that learning should be fun,” says Larson, who is also a presenter in CTEL’s Learning Forever with ASU program.  “He also taught me that if you want your students to care about what you teach, you have to make your students know that you care about them.”

Another influence in her teaching style was Marilyn Burns, a mathematics educator and author of enormous scope and influence.

“I was a traditional teacher for many years,” Larson says.  “I had the opportunity to take a course from Marilyn Burns, who I consider the math guru of the U.S.  I then planned my summer vacations around taking courses from her for a number of years; I think she thought I was stalking her for a while.

“I learned that when you empower students to discover ideas by choosing activities for them, as opposed to telling them what you know, students learn a whole lot more.”

Mari Koerner, CTEL dean, says Larson is an engaging faculty member who champions student success in a difficult discipline area.

“Professor Larson is consistently one of the most highly rated teachers by students in our college.  They simply rave about her teaching, and she is actively requested during class registration.  Her passion and enthusiasm, coupled with her effective teaching methods is the basis for her students’ success.

“She actively works at helping students who have not had much early success in mathematics or problem solving.”

Larson, who teaches sections of math content and pedagogy courses to pre-service teachers in CTEL, believes math can be taught like life lessons, learning to tie one’s shoes, for example.

“You can do math if you have enough experiences with it,” she says.  “I often compare math and problem-solving to learning how to drive a car or how to tie your shoes.  You can watch other people do it for years, but that doesn’t mean you can do it.  When you try a new skill like tying your shoes for the first time, it is hard and you get frustrated.  If you give up, you never learn to tie your shoes.  If you keep trying and trying, then one day it happens and you feel wonderful.  After that, you always know how to tie your shoes.  After a while you even forget to think about it when you do it.

“Pretty much everyone can learn to tie his or her shoes.  Everyone can learn to do math, too.”

The College of Teacher Education and Leadership, through collaboration with educational and civic communities, prepares and inspires innovative educators to be leaders who apply evidence-based knowledge that positively impacts students, families, and the community.

Stephen Des Georges, Stephen.Desgeorges@asu.edu
480-727-0757
ASU Foundation