Margaret Stempien is associate professor in the IUP Mathematics Department and works to get her education majors involved in the local K-12 Indiana community (Stempien recently retired in December 2016).
Stempien invites local elementary school children to come visit her classes at IUP, and her university students practice teaching content-based lessons for them. Engaging in a practical teaching experience allows Stempien’s mathematics students to really
see how their lessons play out, and the elementary students are just as excited to come to the university. One of the K-12 teachers, who recently visited IUP with her class, sent Stempien a picture of a young elementary school student honing in on
her day spent with IUP students. “I can think of one experience that really just made me feel good—and that was a young girl in fifth grade that was asked to share something she learned with her classmates after the IUP visit to my classroom. The
teacher sent me a picture—and there she is standing in front of her classmates with a big smile on her face teaching her example of the Egyptian algorithm for multiplication. That was to me—just so special” said Stempien.
Stempien provides ample activities for her students to get involved as teachers in the classroom. “We don’t just talk about—‘well, here are some nice activities to do with children in the classroom.’ We are going to find materials and make materials to
do activities in the classroom to know what it’s about, and that’s going to become a springboard for further discussion about children’s learning.”
Her background is in secondary mathematics education where she received her bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degrees all from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Stempien began as a temporary instructor at IUP back in 1985 and then moved up to assistant
professor at the branch campus in Kittanning. In 1991, she moved to the Indiana main campus and became an associate professor in 1992. Her current teaching duties are in middle-level, elementary, and early childhood mathematics education, though she
has previously taught secondary math education methods courses.
Her previous teaching experience before coming to IUP is diverse, with K-12 experience in nontraditional settings and experience teaching in a community college in Buffalo. Some of her alternative teaching experience was as the coordinator in a community
center for young children and as a teacher for adult high school equivalency courses. Stempien also spent some time teaching in a more traditional mathematics program at a local high school in Buffalo.
You will often find that Stempien is not at the front of the classroom, but observing her own students lead interactive lessons or working in groups in her classes. Reflecting is a huge part of her courses. Students do not just learn the statement of
the Pythagorean theorem, but they actually learn how to make sense of it. She said, “We are not going to just say ‘here is the Pythagorean theorem,’ but we are going to build squares on the right triangle and piece it together to show the relationship
of squares on the sides.”
“One idea that drives my teaching is that students construct their own knowledge and that teachers ask good questions that advance students’ thinking. Furthermore, telling is not the same as teaching. We often think, ‘well, you know, if I just say this
very clearly students should get it,’ and unfortunately they don’t necessarily have all the connections that we have with the ideas we understand. We need to help them make those connections.”
Remarks from student evaluations demonstrate Stempien’s enthusiasm, dedication, passion, interactive, and hands-on classes. Not too long ago she received an anonymous letter from two students to her stating, “Your passion and expertise truly shine through
in all of your lessons, which only add to the effectiveness of the classes. It is truly an honor to have had you as a professor. You are an inspiration for all future educators.”
Stempien is living up to IUP’s vision by designing instructional opportunities that address society’s needs, especially by making the link to local elementary school children in her courses. In addition to elementary school children coming to IUP, Stempien’s
students go directly to local K-12 schools whenever feasible, where they interact with children in their classes. A dialectic relationship between the community and the university is a key proponent to Stempien’s successful pedagogy. She hopes that
future educators can build their confidence in her courses to teach mathematics, which is a content area that has much trepidation among new K-12 educators.
Written by: Marie T. Webb
Videography: Tryone B. Jones