Enthusiasm + devotion to learning = teaching award

June 14, 2012

Mary Heisel, UW-L senior majoring in math education, UW-L Associate Professor of Mathematics Jennifer Kosiak, and Michele Satter, UW-L senior majoring in math education.

From left, Mary Heisel, UW-L senior majoring in math education; UW-L Associate Professor of Mathematics Jennifer Kosiak; and Michele Satter, UW-L senior majoring in math education. Both Heisel and Satter had Kosiak as an instructor. "Dr. Kosiak has been one of the most influential and personable instructors I have had at UW-L,” says Heisel. “She is one of the reasons I am so passionate about math education."

UW-L math professor earns UW System award

Associate Professor of Mathematics Jennifer Kosiak has poems to compare and contrast rectangles and rhombi. She has been known to sing in class: “You got to fight for your right to use synthetic division.” She wants to create new ways for her students to unravel the mystery of math.

Her dedication as a teacher and her ability to inspire enthusiasm for math and learning has landed Kosiak the 2012 Regents Teaching Excellence Award. Two teachers from the UW System received the $5,000 award, which will be presented at the Board of Regents meeting Aug. 23 in Madison.

“Her raps were a highlight of the class,” says Julius Starlin, mathematics education teacher candidate. “Dr. Kosiak’s enthusiasm and creative teaching styles helped all students, math majors or not, to find enjoyment in mathematics.”

Kosiak came to UW-L from Montana State University in 2004. There she earned a doctoral degree in mathematics with math education specialization. She didn’t initially intend to study math in college and wasn’t naturally gifted at it.

“One day in a college algebra class, I was looking around the room and I thought: if they can get it, I can get it,” recalls Kosiak. “I forced myself to take the next math class, and the next and the next.”

Kosiak switched from memorizing formulas to developing an understanding of why they worked. She applies that to her teaching today.

“I quickly learned I would be expected to provide more than just the ‘right answer’ for Dr. Kosiak,” says Kim Nordlie, ’10, a seventh grade math and science teacher. “Soon I knew that when I came to class, I would be demonstrating multiple strategies to solve problems, communicate why the solution worked, facilitate small group instruction, and create mini-lessons for my classmates.”

Today Kosiak teaches future math educators as well as college algebra through calculus. She is grateful to all of her past students. “It is because of their dedication that I strive to do my best,” she says.

Her students investigate real-world concepts and how mathematics can be used to explain them, such as the time it takes a car to make a complete stop or how to build a handicap accessible playground. She has embraced and demonstrated the most recent trends in technology to enhance learning and refines her professional skills by visiting pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms to see how today’s students are actually learning.

She loves to see students learn and her job is to facilitate that process whether through songs, mathematical models based on real life or unraveling the mystery behind the formulas on the page, she says.

“I don’t want them to see math as a mystery and a bunch of formulas to memorize,” she explains. “There is a beauty in every subject and there is definitely a beauty in mathematics, which every student deserves to see.”

Kosiak’s significant accomplishments

  • Awarded Teacher Educator of the Year by the Student Wisconsin Education Association
  • Served on the Wisconsin Mathematics Council since 2007
  • Coordinates School of Education Secondary Teacher Education Preparation Program
  • Chaired the STEP program committee during the curriculum development and approval process
  • Participated in professional development projects focused on fortifying teacher content knowledge to align with Wisconsin mathematics standards
  • Works with 25 teachers on a project that examines the integration of mathematics with reading and writing
  • Assists in-service mathematics teachers throughout the region