Otsego graduate promotes math education

By: 
Kayla Deneau, Staff Writer

“It is definitely a male-dominated field,” said Anna Fricano DeJarnette

The 2004 Otsego High School graduate recently completed her PhD in mathematics education and is working as an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati.

“I teach and do research,” she said. “I study how students learn math and look for ways to support more students to learn math well.”

DeJarnette began her higher education at St. Mary’s College in Indiana—originally studying a business field.

“I was drawn into math,” she said. “I enjoyed the challenge and there were faculty members who really supported and mentored me in that direction.”

After changing majors, DeJarnette received a competitive grant—known as the Clare Boothe Luce Program—designed to draw more women into Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, careers.

The program awarded its first grants in 1989 and has since supported more than 1,900 women.

DeJarnette went on to complete her graduate work in mathematics in 2010 and PhD in mathematics education in 2014, both at the University of Illinois.

Her dissertation involved students’ use of computer programming to solve problems about trigonometric functions.

“I helped students develop programs related to functions,” she said.

For example, students created a racing game where two cars race around a track. The game related to rates of change—a foundational aspect of algebra.

“The game allowed comparisons of rates of change in an environment where they have something to look at,” DeJarnette said. “It is a new way to discuss it rather than slope in an algebra class.”

She said to quantify how the programs worked for educational purposes, she studied the students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and completed a statistical analysis to view how they made sense of mathematical ideas.

“My goal is to get more students to enjoy math and pursue careers later in math,” said DeJarnette.

Her former school district, Otsego Public Schools, has taken several steps to involve more STEM programming in the classroom, including DeJarnette’s former elementary school, Alamo Elemen­tary.

The district received more than $30,000 in grants in the past year specifically to fund STEM programs including a high school robotics team and Lego Education Kits to be used at the middle and elementary school level. A Lego Lab will be installed at Alamo Elementary School.

“I think it’s great STEM programs are becoming more popular,” said DeJarnette. “Having more math and science courses at a young age gives the students more opportunity to know what they are interested in while in elementary school rather than waiting until middle or high school.

“More opportunities to do STEM-related activities means more opportunities for students to see the different pathways available to them.”

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