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Mathematics as Human Activity – Supporting students and teachers engaged in authentic mathematical activity

Mathematics is a creative act that is as beautiful and engaging as any of the fine arts and as useful as any of the physical sciences. Too often students and teachers experience mathematics as a dormant list of procedures, definitions, theorems, and proofs. Mathematics professor Sean Larsen is a mathematics educator focused on bringing mathematics to life for undergraduate students and mathematics teachers at all levels.

One focus of Larsen’s research is on the teaching and learning of abstract algebra. His NSF funded Teaching Abstract Algebra for Understanding (TAAFU) project produced online materials to support mathematics professors in teaching abstract algebra in a way that actively engages students in reinventing the fundamental concepts. Dr. Larsen co-edited a special issue of the Journal of Mathematical Behavior focused on the TAAFU project, which offers a model of the process of designing and scaling up an instructional intervention.

A second focus of Larsen’s research is on supporting mathematics teachers in guiding their students in mathematics inquiry. His NSF funded Justification and Argumentation: Growing Understanding of Algebraic Reasoning (JAGUAR) project researched the development of middle school mathematics teachers who explicitly worked to increase their own understanding of mathematical justification and support their students in algebraic reasoning (conjecturing, generalizing, justification, and proof).

These projects (and a new partnership with the Mathematical Association of America focused on Calculus I) have supported Larsen in pursuing his primary passion: mentoring graduate students. He has successfully placed graduates in faculty positions at highly ranked universities like Virginia Tech and Oregon State University. More than a dozen graduate students have worked on Dr. Larsen’s funded projects. These students have amassed an impressive number of accomplishments including professional conference presentations, refereed journal publications, and in one case a co-editor credit for a special issue of a journal.