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Former resident putting degree to good use

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Matt and Amy Switzer pose for a picture in front of a sculpture of the Texas Christian University mascot, a horned frog. Courtesy Photo.
A Brazil native is using his doctorate degree to research preventative measures to help school-aged math students succeed before it's too late.

"My research focuses on finding a way to identify students who were at risk of struggling in math before they actually started to struggle. There wasn't much precedent research on this," Matt Switzer said.

Switzer graduated with a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Missouri May 13, 2011.

"I grew up in an education household and knew the pay wasn't great. But I enjoyed math. I thought about going into engineering, but teaching was in my heart," Switzer said.

He is the son of John and Vicki Switzer, Center Point, the grandson of Kathleen Brooks, Brazil, Amy (Taylor) Switzer's husband and the son-in-law of Pete and Beverly Taylor, Brazil.

Amy is also a teacher, and she and Matt have three children, 14-year-old Allison, 11-year-old Eric and nine-year old Abby.

Matt and Amy met during a mutual friend's wedding in Brazil.

"She was actually dating the bride's brother and we reconnected after my sophomore year of college," Switzer said.

A 1989 Indiana State University graduate, Matt Switzer received his master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 2007.

"The University of Northern Colorado master's program had a great balance between graduate level math and a quality education program. I chose to further my education at the University of Missouri because it was one of the three schools where they actually had a math research program focused on mathematics cirriculum, and I thought it was the best fit. Later, I became the district coordinator," Switzer said.

He taught middle and high school math for 16 years, and spent two years as a mathematics facilitator for grades K-12 in Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colo. Matt said he has a great deal of experience teaching students who have difficulty with math.

"I worked with students who struggled. There seemed to be a disconnect between school math and the way they thought about math," Matt said.

He further explained some of his students were doing math outside of school that was much more sophisticated than the math they struggled with as part of their curriculum.

At the school, Matt worked with students entering remedial ninth-grade math classes which had a 50-60 percent fail rate, and his job was to remediate them.

"I met the students where they were. We started with pattern recognition and modeling. They actually asked when they were going to start doing math because they didn't realize they already were," Switzer said.

Matt began familiarizing the students and developing their "number sense" and their ability to conceptualize different types of variables.

"The results of my research showed the students seemed to have different meanings when variables were represented by letters, words and shapes. I wanted to bring them all down to a single meaning," Switzer told The Brazil Times.

Switzer added his work was much like that of a doctor trying to help patients.

"I wanted to diagnose and predict what the student struggled with before they started to have more problems, that way they would never get to a point where they just wanted to give up," Switzer said.

He will begin his career as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education in August at Texas Christian University.

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Great article--and great work Matt!

-- Posted by MM85 on Thu, Jun 23, 2011, at 11:09 AM

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