Doctoral student Sarah McCarthy had done it all — from radio broadcast to show production — anything and everything except education.
“I come from a family of teachers and that was the last thing I wanted to do,” McCarthy explained.
That is, until she visited her aunt’s special education classroom. “I fell in love with it,” she said. “The school, the students. I thought this is where I really need to be.”
Fast forward to today. McCarthy is a few months away from completing UNLV’s early childhood multilingual and special education Ph.D. program. She focuses on math anxiety issues.
Inspired by Teachers
McCarthy initially planned to research different strategies for teaching students with disabilities, but after visiting a middle school classroom, she was inspired to find a way to impact students and educators on a greater scale.
“My teacher friends inspire me,” said McCarthy “While we (researchers) are the ones preparing them for the classroom, they are the ones in the trenches, pouring their souls into educating their students.”
Instead of simply providing different methods for solving math problems, McCarthy wants to help teachers remove the barrier of math anxiety in students.
“Kids are terrified of math, and we don’t know the exact age that starts,” she said. “Research doesn’t focus much on math anxiety in students with disabilities, English language learners, or younger students.”
Using surveys, working-memory tests, classroom observations, and focus groups, McCarthy and her team hope to quantify levels of math anxiety in students at risk.
“Then we can start looking at how we can decrease their anxiety and increase their achievement in math,” said McCarthy. “It’s nonsense that you are born a math person. Everyone has the potential to be successful in math.”