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Janet Tassell: In Prague and Beyond - Math Mindfulness, Lectures, and School Visits

Janet Tassell is an Assistant Director and 
Professor for the School of Teacher Education at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. During Fall 2022/2023, she spent three months as a Fulbright Scholar at the Faculty of Education with the Mathematics Department of Charles University in Prague, where she co-taught a course Classical Readings in Mathematics Education and guest lectured in a course on Secondary Math Methods. Janet is passionate about education and teaching, and her students can feel her excitement and positivity. Her research in the Czech Republic centered on mindfulness teaching practices in mathematics. During her stay, she has conducted research with teacher candidates to apply mindfulness practices in mathematics instruction, to strengthen students’ growth mindset, and lessen math anxiety. Many of these strategies can be applied across multiple disciplines, far beyond teaching mathematics. Weeks after her Transatlantic adventure, back in Kentucky, Janet firmly says that: "No other experience in my career has stretched me as a professional in connecting culturally and personally to meet the needs of students and lecture participants. The value of international immersion has no match in the gift of growth."

Every day, every moment of a US Fulbright Scholar experience is to be valued. As I reflect on my semester in Prague with Charles University and the Pedagogical Education Faculty in Mathematics, I believe the experience was lived with maximum experiences. With the Inter-Country Travel Grant option, I was able to experience growth opportunities in Prague, Czech Republic, and several other countries where I visited schools and provided lectures.

At Charles University, I had the unique opportunity to conduct a research replication study of Math Mindfulness for preservice elementary teachers. The research consisted of a pre/post set of surveys that a control and intervention group took in October and then again in December. The intervention group also participated in a three-seminar series focusing on strengthening mathematics teachers’ mental health in the areas of mindfulness techniques, growth mindset, lowering anxiety, and increasing self-efficacy in teaching. My target goal of 30 participants was exceeded with a total of 31 participants: 16 intervention, and 15 control. To illustrate the relationship I was able to develop with my seminar participant, one of my favorite exit quotes was:

“I really feel like you have a teacher’s soul. You are really in the right place. It is not really a job for you. You are the person that loves teaching.”

Photo: Janet Tassell's preparation for her lesson at Charles University in Prague, Fall 2022. 

I was able to share my math mindfulness research through a visit within Czech Republic to Brno, Masaryk University, Math Pedagogy Department and in Budapest for the MA Education Psychology class with ELTA: “Math Mindfulness, Growth Mindset, and Math Anxiety: What Role do These Play in Teacher Preparation.” In both settings, I was able to conduct mindfulness techniques, like the “Math Wall” activity to encourage conversation about how to lower math anxiety and increase growth mindset. Beyond the scope of the fall semester, I have been asked to do a webinar in January 2023 for Fulbright for Czech teachers and English Teaching Assistants (ETAs).

Within the classroom, I had a variety of opportunities at CU and abroad. I co-taught the Classical Reading for Mathematics Education course with Dr. Ladislav Kvasz. My role was to augment the course with USA topics for seminar sessions from which the CU students would gain insight. I taught the students about engagement strategies for teaching and presenting, gifted education for math students, mindfulness teaching practices, and the assessment cycle (descriptive feedback, formative/summative assessment, and grading). I shared with my host Dr. Nad’a Vondrova’s Secondary Math Methods course mathematics norms for the classroom and a way to incorporate eight standards for mathematical practice. Through these experiences, I was able to witness the excitement of the future teachers and stretch them in their English understanding of language and of educational practices. After the style of my teaching, I have been told that the CU students are now excited about taking photos to document their excitement about learning in class!

Photo: Janet Tassell and her colleague Ladislav Kvasz during their course Classical Reading for Mathematics Education at Charles University in Prague, Fall 2022.  
 
Both at CU and abroad, I was able to share about my research and interest areas in education. Through networking and collaboration, I shared research on how to meet the needs of high potential/gifted mathematics students through differentiation, problem solving, and increased rigor. I shared with undergraduate preservice teachers at Krakow U., Poland, graduate psychology students at Vienna U. (online) and Babes-Bolyai U., Cluj Napoca, Romania, Radboud University’s RITHA future gifted specialists in Netherlands, and with the mathematics department at Karlstad U. in Sweden. In each of these presentations I learned about an incredible range of strides that can still be made in meeting the needs of gifted mathematics children.

As a support to early career researchers to manage interests, I shared a presentation about how to become a creative researcher to several groups including the PhD Retreat with Charles U., the Pedagogy Faculty at ELTA in Budapest, the undergraduate students at Krakow U., and the gifted education doctoral students in Sweden. Through this lecture and discussion, both new and seasoned researchers reflected on their professional choices and considered how to carve a path in their research persona.

Photo: Janet Tassell during a lecture for undergraduate preservice teachers in Krakow Poland, November 2022.
 
My final lecture at CU was “Rethinking Descriptive Feedback, Assessment, and Grading in the Higher Education Classroom” in which several attended in person and on Zoom. Through this presentation and discussion, I shared the importance of prioritizing communication about how to help students make progress in their learning by providing descriptive feedback and through formative assessment strategies. The discussion was robust and illustrated a willingness to use key ideas for immediate application to their teaching practice in higher education. 
 
Visiting primary and secondary schools/gymnasiums during the Fall semester enabled me to learn about everything from gifted mathematics education to discovery mathematics lessons. In Prague, I visited two first grade classrooms where the teachers were using the “Hejny” model of instruction. In Budapest, I observed an incredible 7th grade discovery lesson at the famous Fazekas School for mathematics specialization and met the coach for Hungary’s Math Olympiad team. In the Netherlands, I visited three different schools to learn about how gifted mathematics is approached. In Karlstad, Sweden, I spoke to a group of high school students in an advanced mathematics course and learned about the approach of accelerating students.

Photo: Janet Tassell's Education students during her course at Charles University in Prague, Fall 2022.
 
On my last day in Prague, I met with a teacher of English at a Secondary Gymnasium. She is continuing conversation with me and colleagues with my home university, Western Kentucky U., to help us realize our dream of a student teaching placement in Prague for our education majors. My hope is for others to learn from this magical city as an alternative location for an educational experience. 

No other experience in my career has stretched me as a professional in connecting culturally and personally to meet the needs of students and lecture participants. The value of international immersion has no match in the gift of growth.

Photo: Janet Tassell during a business trip to Budapest, Hungary, Fall 2022.

Note: Most pictures are from Janet Tassell's personal archive, the profile photo was taken by Ola Syomina.

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