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Diane Evans: Teaching as a Conversation

June 6, 2012


Evans 2
Evans brings "cool math" to the table

Diane Evans is passionate about teaching and isn't afraid to show it. That's just one of the many reasons the mathematics professor has been cited by the Princeton Review's Best 300 Professors list and received Rose-Hulman's Outstanding Teacher Award. It's also why she has just been featured as a "Global Hero in Education" by Microsoft's Daily Edventures blog.

"As long as you are passionate about what you teach and the students can feel this, students will respect and respond to you," Evans stated in the blog. "Don't be shy in letting students know that you love what you do."

Later, she adds: "I would like every child to have an opportunity to be taught by someone who is passionate about what they do and cares about the future of that child. I want every child to see how it is fun to pursue something that he or she loves, no matter what that may be."

Blog curator Anthony Salcido, an Education leader at Microsoft, plans to post a Global Hero of Education every day for a year. And he posed thoughtful questions that led Dr. Evans to highlight her teaching success, discuss teaching challenges and even share her favorite books. Evans, associate professor of mathematics, would prefer that her students talk in class than take notes. In fact, she even hands out lecture notes at the beginning of class, to save students the trouble of writing everything down.

That may sound unorthodox, but Evans believes much of the real learning comes through interaction. "It's almost like we're having a conversation, doing examples, and filling in the gaps."

She's a big believer in real-world examples, using bottled-water taste tests and hands-on studies of M&M manufacturing defects to help students connect with tough concepts. Then, there are the games-dice, cards, and statistical puzzles that she uses to reinforce mathematical principles.

Evans in class2
Keeping students engaged means being engaged

After all, Evans' favorite quote is "Tell me, and I'll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I'll understand."

"I'm a very visual person," she says. "I have to see pictures, diagrams, and have hands-on examples. I find it works well for them, too."

Apparently so, as alumnus Adri Platt says, "I think of dice all the time when I need to understand or explain probability in more detail for people without a technical background." Platt is an outsourcing program manager for Intel Corporation.

Beyond making tough concepts easier to grasp, Evans' approach sets a fun and informal tone that seems to resonate with students.

"She often started class with a funny cartoon or anecdote that would grab our attention and keep it for the entire lecture," observes alumnus Joshua Moore, a post-doctoral associate at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in Maryland. "Professor Evans always made class enjoyable by creating an environment where students were not afraid to ask questions."

Evans believes that mathematics is far more than rote memorization-it is problem solving at its best.

"I want my students to dig for the meaning behind the symbols and formulas in the textbooks," she told Microsoft's Daily Edventures blog. "I want students to understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. Anyone can click a button and get answers with today's technological advances, but the true learner will know what the answer means and why he or she clicked the button to get it."

Read more about Evans' use of technology in the classroom, plus her thoughts on teaching and the quality of STEM education in Salcito's blog.