“In all of my classes, my biggest focus is building up students’ confidence so that they can persist and overcome obstacles.”
“When I first came to Guttman” in 2014, remembers Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Marla Sole, “I designed a signature assignment for my Statistics class.” Working as “empirical researchers to collect data and analyze it,” students compared the prices of iced and hot coffee. Dr. Sole also arranged a visit to a local café, where the coffee buyer spoke to the class and provided the essential context that makes coursework come alive. “When I think about that research,” published in 2017 in the Journal of Statistics Education, “I always remember my first group of students” at the College, the first of many Dr. Sole has taught in courses ranging from the Quantitative Reasoning component of City Seminar to Calculus.
“I work a lot on debunking stereotypes that say that women and minorities have less math ability [and] on having students shift to a growth mindset and the belief that intelligence can be developed.” In class, students are challenged corresponding to the skills they demonstrate. To complement student-centered teaching practices, Dr. Sole uses short individual conversations to discuss and affirm students’ goals, plans to accomplish them, and the changes in abilities or perceptions that they’ve experienced, however subtle. These positive interactions reinforce the effect of the growth mindset on student success, not only in math courses, but academically overall. “It is so important,” Dr. Sole explains, “for students to be able to accumulate credits to finish their degrees and, often, math is an obstacle.”
Concerned with the critical issues of math literacy, educational access, and equity, Dr. Sole has collaborated with fellow Guttman faculty on mathematics pathways as part of the Project for Relevant and Improved Mathematics Education (PRIME), funded by the Teagle Foundation. Her 2019 article, “Who Can Excel in Mathematics?,” which was named Editor’s Choice in the SUM: Research Innovation and Creativity at CUNY Newsletter, “looks at all the real and perceived barriers that stop students from advancing” in college. It recommends “nullifying stereotype threat and having students develop a growth mindset,” exactly what she does in the classroom. Ultimately, “I want them to maintain, even strengthen that mindset.”
As an incentive and an opportunity, Dr. Sole invites students to be co-presenters at academic conferences, involving them in her math education scholarship and professional activities. Each year since the initial coffee project, she has elaborated new assignments that require students to gather data, such as modeling how a tweet goes viral in her Algebra and Trigonometry course. An intentional “connection between teaching and research[,] the project that we do… turns into a conference presentation.” After delivering her remarks at the 2019 Annual EDxED NYC Professional Learning Conference, the student co-presenter felt that “nothing in my entire life has had such a big impact on me as speaking there.” The indelible impression of this event on the student captures the extent and reach of Dr. Sole’s dedication to the power of Guttman scholars to aim high and persevere.