New MST Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Nicholas Wasserman, Mathematics EducationBy mst • Feb 5th, 2014 • Category: Mathematics Education
The Mathematics, Science, and Technology Department have welcomed Dr. Nick Wasserman as the new assistant professor in the Mathematics Education program. He is currently teaching a finite mathematics course. Dr. Wasserman is also a TC alum, MA, Mathematics Education ’08 and PhD, Mathematics Education ’11.
Dr. Wasserman was born in Arizona and raised in the Midwest, primarily in Oklahoma. He was interested in mathematics growing up and enjoyed problem solving; in addition, he was part of an accelerated mathematics program where he took algebra as a 7th grader and Calculus I and II as a junior and senior. But while in high school he enjoyed mathematics, he had not considered teaching mathematics nor considered education as a career path.
He attended the University of Texas at Austin to pursue his undergraduate degree in architecture, where he later changed his major to mathematics and mathematics education by enrolling in the UTeach program. The UTeach program, developed for preparing secondary mathematics, science, and computer science teachers, has since expanded and been replicated at 35 institutions across the country.
When Dr. Wasserman began to study education in the UTeach program he realized that teaching mathematics was an extremely creative endeavor. Finding ways to present topics and help students understand concepts was both challenging and rewarding. During his time as an undergraduate, he was able to take both mathematics courses and courses about the teaching and learning of mathematics. All the while enjoying the outdoors through sports and activities such as tennis, skiing, and hiking. He had a number of professors in the UTeach program that shaped his understanding of mathematics education and education in general, “They were fantastic educators.”
After completing his undergraduate degree, Dr. Wasserman taught for three years in Austin as a secondary teacher and coached tennis. As a high school student, he remembers how influential taking calculus was for the first time; as a secondary school teacher, teaching calculus became a personal quest which eventually led to teaching a variety of topics in secondary mathematics. Following these three years he began his graduate studies at TC. He spent two years at Southern Methodist University as an assistant professor of mathematics education, revamping and developing their sequence of graduate courses, before returning to TC as a faculty member in the Mathematics Education program.
As a TC student, Dr. Wasserman recalls his experience of beginning to think about research in a new way, as a contribution of new knowledge in the field. His dean at Southern Methodist, David Chard, helped him more precisely craft and define his research agenda, which relates to teachers’ horizon content knowledge.
Currently, Dr. Wasserman is teaching an introductory graduate mathematics content course on finite mathematics, MSTM 4038; in Spring 2014 he will teach a mathematics content course and a research seminar for doctoral students. Primarily his teaching load will include teaching both mathematics content and mathematics education courses. He enjoys working and interacting with teachers and thinking about the teaching and learning of mathematics.
Dr. Wasserman particularly enjoys teaching discrete mathematics topics, especially combinatorics. As a secondary teacher, he recalls his experiences with a finite mathematics course he developed for high school students finishing pre-calculus as juniors who do not enroll in advanced placement calculus or statistics. “The students in the course got to see a different side of mathematics and it was really powerful to see these kids that struggled with pre-calculus topics, primarily functions, and then to see them really thrive and enjoy some of the topics in discrete mathematics. And be surprised that mathematics could be so different from their previous experiences.” He also taught a finite mathematics course for undergraduate mathematics majors at Southern Methodist University.
His scholarly work and interests relate to studying how knowledge of advanced mathematics impacts K-12 teaching practices. Much of his research is guided by the Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching framework, which came out of the University of Michigan as a practice-based orientation toward developing a professional knowledge base. One element of this framework is called horizon content knowledge, which was less developed than the other aspects but focused primarily on how advanced mathematics impacts teaching practice. Dr. Wasserman recently published an article about horizon content knowledge, further developing and conceptualizing this component of the framework and its potential impact on practice. He used two vignettes to depict how teachers’ horizon knowledge may impact planned teaching practices and not just change teachers’ actions in the moment.
Dr. Wasserman is also working on a number of writing projects from a funded study to explore how group theory impacts teaching practice. He is still analyzing the data from the group theory project in order to provide insight into how such advanced mathematics influences classroom teachers’ practices. Alongside this project he is analyzing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) through the lens of advanced content knowledge, which has led to doing some broader work conceptualizing the relationship between horizon content knowledge and more elementary mathematics. In addition, Dr. Wasserman completed a book chapter about the use of SketchUp, a dynamic technology tool, in mathematics education that will be published in the spring. In addition to these research projects, Dr. Wasserman is working with faculty at Rutgers University and Portland State University related to thinking about how a real analysis course could impact teaching secondary mathematics.
In conclusion, Dr. Wasserman reflects on the positive influences throughout his career, “At every stage and every step there have been people that I’ve wanted to emulate, wanted to learn from, and who have pushed me toward what came next.”
Dr. Wasserman maintains active membership with several professional affiliations, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), Mathematical Association of America (MAA), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE).
Aside from his busy academic schedule, he tries to maintain a balanced lifestyle, which includes spending time with his family, traveling when time permits, homebrewing, and his preferred form of exercise: playing tennis.
TC Faculty Profile: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/academics/?facid=nhw2108
Personal Professional Website: http://www.columbia.edu/~nhw2108/
By Deiana Jackson, Graduate Student, Mathematics Education PhD