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Faculty Focus: Helping students while making sense of math

Julie Keener, a COCC mathmatics instructor

You were probably taught math the wrong way in grade school Julie Keener thinks. Keener, mathematics instructor at Central Oregon Community College, said that the only reason she was good at math was because she could memorize all the formulas and deliver them on command. She didn’t understand the fundamentals of math or the reasoning behind the formulas she memorized.
For the people who can’t memorize the abstract formulas, Keener said, math is much harder. A professor who teaches Developmental Math and Math for Elementary Teachers at COCC, Keener sees an educational tradition in math teaching that is all about the rules and not at all about understanding.
“I want to help students see that it’s supposed to make sense,” Keener said. “It’s not supposed to be a bunch of rules.”
Keener sees many of the things people believe about their math ability as “math myths.” These myths include statements like  ‘you’re born with the math gene’ or ‘it’s something you either can or can’t do.’
“[In society],we’ve made it okay to hate math—you don’t hear people walking around saying, ‘I’m not good at reading,’” said Keener.
Students who say they aren’t good at math simply don’t understand the true “logic” of math. They’ve been taught the formulas but it takes more than that.
“Students need to realize that a lot of how successful they will be,” Keener said, “is wrapped up in how much they work at it.”
For Keener, teaching is more of a science than an art—and her teaching has gained her much respect in her field at COCC.
“Julie is the bomb. She is my mentor in all things pedagogue. Her opinions mean the world to me,” said Sean Rule, fellow mathematics instructor.
But for Keener, her career is still all about the students’ understanding. She says that to her, it’s a success story every time a student says, “I never knew that I could do this.”

Know someone interesting on campus? Let Scott know. Contact Scott Greenstone at



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