# Seven questions with... Marcia Burrell

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- Seven questions with... Marcia Burrell

### 19 January 2018

*Dr Marcia Burrell is Professor and Chair of Curriculum and Instruction at State University of New York at Oswego, USA. *

*1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics? *

My earliest memory of doing mathematics was when I was nine years old – and it was actually in Luton, in England. I was in a classroom, and I realized that because I did not do well on an examination I was going to be placed in a lower class – a class for kids who did not ‘get it’. I remember feeling upset and wondering why they were not talking to me about this. Of course, I was only nine years old, and yet I knew something was wrong. We moved to the United States that year, so I don’t know what would have happened to me if we had not moved...

*2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it? *

Honestly – I do not think it has changed at all. Thirty years ago while doing my master's degree in mathematics education we were talking about the things we are talking about now – for example problem solving and Pólya. Call me a pessimist, but I do not think things have changed!

*3. Tell me about a time in your career when something flabbergasted you. *

This is a tough one. Flabbergasted? Several years ago I worked at a community college, and I remember clearly one of my students from my remedial class. She needed to learn everything, from arithmetic to beginning algebra. I worked hard to make sure she learned what she needed to and supported her as much as I could. Within a four-year period, she emailed me to tell me that she had been admitted into a Ph.D. program at McGill, with a full ride (tuition fee waiver). Despite such a shaky start, she had learned what she needed to be successful, had taken all the necessary math courses as an undergraduate, and continued to a Ph.D. program. She was thanking me for my patience and me believing in her. I had no idea that my practices could help someone move through mathematics so successfully – it left me totally speechless. (She is more mathematically competent than I am now!)

*4. Do you practice mathematics differently in company? *

I do not practice math all that much anymore, although I have just come back from a sabbatical where I managed to do some! I do a lot of administrative things now, and I hope my role is more of a cheerleader around what we should be doing to help students access mathematics. I think the question about doing mathematics ourselves is a good point: if we do not do the math for a while, do we lose our credibility when it comes to talking about reforms? I think that I try to look mathematical, but often I just do math in a way that makes sense to me and then try to figure out how to do it the way others expect me to – performing it, perhaps. As a teacher educator I really believe that math teachers should continually do math wherever possible, whether it’s in the form of puzzles or problems.

*5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made? *

A brilliant math teacher is made – an absolute no to the ‘born’ possibility. I think once you delve deeply into those teachers who are good or great, you realize that they have been mentored and guided ‘into’ their brilliance.

*6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have? *

The most fun a mathematician can have is solving a problem. A puzzle is fun. The process of solving the problem is the chewing, and the swallowing is the satisfaction (you might have heard this before). Seeing someone under my tutelage solve a problem and get it is always fun too.

*7. Do you have a favourite maths joke? *

I have heard this joke from kids I teach:

Q: Why is 6 afraid of 7? A: Because 7 ate 9!

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