Dr. Eileen Faulkenberry is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Tarleton State University, teaching mathematics education classes for both undergraduate and graduate students. She also serves as the Graduate Teaching Assistant Coordinator, supporting graduate teaching assistants in professional development to ensure they have the necessary support to be good teachers.
Dr. Faulkenberry earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. There, she also met her husband, Dr. Tom Faulkenberry, Assistant Professor in Tarleton’s Psychological Sciences Department. They have three children, ages 4, 6, and 10, who keep them very busy. Dr. (Eileen) Faulkenberry enjoys knitting. “It has a nice pattern to it, it keeps me calm and soothed, and it keeps my fingers busy in meetings. Plus, you have a nice product at the end.”
Learn more about Dr. Eileen Faulkenberry in the following conversation.
COGS: What factors influenced you to choose this career field?
EF: My dad was a college math professor, and my mom was an elementary school teacher and principal, so math has always been a part of my environment. I can remember being in grade school and knowing that the way that we were taught wasn’t always the best way that people learned. Being able to help my friends when they were struggling was an important part of my public school education, so I knew at a young age I wanted to teach teachers how to teach math.
Part of how I see my job is combatting that it is socially acceptable to be bad at math. It is not okay to be bad at math, just like it is not okay to not know how to read. Math is like putting together a puzzle: there are many different ways to get the finished product, and what works for one person, may not be best for another, though this is not the way that teachers often view teaching math. Providing space to allow students to put their knowledge together in packages that makes sense to them so they have a more coherent whole is a very important part of my job.
COGS: What are your current research topics?
EF: Currently, we are working on a few small projects. One is growth mindset in mathematics in terms of fixed mindset versus growth mindset, and how it impacts student learners. Fixed mindset would be ‘I am a math person’ or ‘I am not a math person’. Growth mindset is ‘I can do anything if I really work hard at it’. We are trying to grow the growth mindset, especially in our preservice teachers. Also, we are partnering with Hook Elementary on a service learning project, going in and teaching some of their students, and looking at how that early experience in teaching impacts students as learners. The goal is to see if we can improve their teacher preparation.
COGS: What are some of your most interesting or important research findings?
EF: One of the articles that I am most proud of was published in Mathematics Teacher several years ago. It looks at function transformations and how we teach those. Many times, they are taught with ‘here’s the process, go do it’. I took a conceptual look at function transformations: Why is it that we do what we do? Why is it that when it’s inside the parenthesis you move it the opposite direction? Looking at that conceptually, rather than ‘here is the rule, memorize it’ . . . I got a lot of positive feedback, so I am really proud of that one.
In terms of research, several years ago I took a specific type of qualitative research called Word Clouds to a conference, and it’s been really fun to watch over the past few years as several others have implemented Word Clouds into their research as well.
COGS: What do you find most rewarding about working with graduate students?
EF: It is fun to watch them grow. They’re here for two years, and they come to us inexperienced. They’re not sure what grad school is all about. Then they get into grad school, and they’re teaching and taking classes, and they get completely overwhelmed. I love that we have graduate assistantships that put them IN classrooms so it gives them some wonderful experiences that then prepares them if they want to teach at a community college, or if they want to go on and work on their doctorate.
We have a wide variety of opportunities for grad students with math education, pure mathematics, or applied mathematics with data mining. Our program allows students to basically build their own program to meet their needs for what they want to do, so no two students have the exact same experience.