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For Shannon Wellington, having the opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate is an invaluable experience.
Wellington should know.
The elementary education junior teamed with Jack Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, to develop her own research project during the 2000-01 academic year.
The Honors College student is one of dozens of undergraduate students from throughout the university who annually engage in research under the supervision of a faculty mentor.
Wellington’s project evolved out of Smith’s Navigating Mathematical Transitions project, which is funded by a $900,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education. As part of the research team, Wellington was able to focus on the transition that students make in mathematics from high school to college.
“I wanted to know if students with different high school mathematics backgrounds differed in the way they got help outside of class when they didn’t understand the material covered in class,” said Wellington, who is from Midland, Michigan. “I was able to take a part of the larger Mathematical Transitions project and make it my own.”
As part of the project, she looked at two sets of freshmen. One group had graduated from a high school that used a reform curriculum in mathematics. The other group had graduated from a school that used a more traditional approach to mathematics.
Over the course of the school year, she did classroom observations, conducted interviews and surveyed students.
What she found was that there were differences in how the two groups coped. Those students who were graduates of the reform curriculum were more likely to seek help—either from tutors or other students— when they had difficulty understanding a concept or math problem.
Wellington said the project was not only interesting, but allowed her to gain a better understanding of the impact the curriculum has on students. The project has given her insight into teaching and learning that she said will serve her well when she begins teaching.
“It was fun and important, too,” she said. “I want to teach at the junior high level and that is such a transitional stage. It is important for me to see and understand this kind of development in students. It was just a great experience.”