If you are a future teacher who is anxious about leading math lessons, great news: Dr. Diana Piccolo is here to make math fun to learn for both you and your students. Piccolo, an associate professor in childhood education and family studies, shows her students how to use “manipulatives,” tools that help children and teens learn math concepts. Manipulatives may include blocks, scales, tiles, beans, interactive bulletin boards or computer programs — anything that can be a physical, hands-on, interactive representation of shapes or abstract principles such as addition, subtraction, division and multiplication.
Tell us about your focus on mathematics. Why did you choose this area?
As a young student, math was very hard for me. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school, when I was in a trig class, that I finally “got it” — thanks to a teacher who had a teaching style I just loved. She taught very differently than my previous math teachers. In college, again, I had really good math instructors, so I specialized in math. I wanted to educate pre-service teachers on how to teach math in a way that reaches all levels of learners. Math can and should be understandable and enjoyable for all ages.
What teaching styles do you recommend for future math teachers?
When teachers are introducing a math skill, they typically show students orally or visually by using numbers, such as “2+2=4.” When you use manipulatives in a math class, you add a hands-on, tactile learning style. In my class we spend a lot of time making sure pre-service teachers understand the importance of not just using oral, visual or hands-on styles, but balancing the three and putting all the different learning styles into their teaching.
You are being profiled because students say you’re a great teacher. What do you think makes a teacher great?
I want to teach in a way that makes students come away from my class thinking, “OK, I can do this! Math is not this foreign thing that only some people can do. I have enough tools in my toolkit that I can now go and teach math and do a good job.” I hope that I’m an advocate, a cheerleader, a mentor ... I want them to succeed!
Why is Missouri State a great choice for students interested in education?
We have one of the most well-respected and largest education programs in the state. Our instructors genuinely care, so we go above and beyond. We pride ourselves on being rigorous and having high expectations, so when students graduate they’re going to be well-prepared to teach. The first year of teaching is not going to knock the socks off of our new graduates — they’re going to be ready to go! One way we do that is we put them in authentic classroom settings as much as possible. Students have multiple field experiences of varying amounts and types.
You’re the sponsor of the Student National Education Association chapter at Missouri State. What does SNEA do?
This is a student group for education students. It helps students network with professionals in the field. As the sponsor, I really enjoy bringing in speakers, resources and activities these pre-service teachers need. We also talk about how laws and politics might affect them once they get into classrooms as brand-new teachers. SNEA also does activities off campus. We’ve done projects for the needy and traveled to the state capital, and SNEA students have presented at conferences with me.
You were a math teacher before becoming a University professor. How does that help you teach Missouri State education students?
I’ve taught both elementary and middle school math. My background lets me share my overall experiences with my students as they are going into elementary and middle schools. I have been at Missouri State since 2008. This is the only place I’ve been a professor, and I don’t ever see myself leaving. I love Missouri State!
What is the best thing about your job?
Seeing my students grow and learn. I like when I can have them in class for several semesters, so we make a connection and build a relationship. I like seeing them go from a point where they weren’t sure if they could teach math to a point where they surprise themselves and can actually do it better than they thought.