“I’ve always loved seeing my students solve a problem. That ‘a-ha!’ moment is such a wonderful triumph for them and for me, too,” said Dr. M. Katherine Gavin, who dedicated her career to teaching and researching mathematics.
“To have students tell me that they were afraid to take my course, but fell in love with mathematics in the end, was wonderful, especially when those students will be future teachers who will influence their own students’ attitudes toward mathematics,” added Gavin, who in 2013 retired from UConn’s Neag School of Education. There, she served as an associate professor in residence in mathematics and math specialist at the Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development.
Gavin said she was inspired to enter education by her high school math teachers. Later, at UConn, she turned her determination to “ignite a love of mathematics” into two nationally renowned projects—Project M3: Mentoring Mathematical Minds and Project M2: Mentoring Young Mathematicians.
Serving as the projects’ principal investigator and project director, she led a team of mathematics education experts from throughout the U.S. to develop new mathematics materials focused on advanced thinking skills and student-centered learning for talented math students in grades K-5, especially those from low-income and minority backgrounds.
Today, the educational materials produced from the projects are widely used in all 50 states and internationally, with Gavin and her team receiving the National Association for Gifted Children’s Distinguished Curriculum Award for nine consecutive years.
“Kathy has distinguished herself by compiling a remarkable record of both scholarly publications and national and international presentations,” said former Neag colleague Joseph S. Renzulli, director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. “Kathy’s work has both the scholarly respect and the practical applications for influencing real and lasting changes, and in this regard her contributions are recognized as the ‘gold standard’ in mathematics education.”
A Neag alumna with a Ph.D. in educational psychology focused on gifted and talented education, Gavin has been actively involved in philanthropic support for the Neag School since her retirement.
“It is a wonderful and exciting time for the school as we try to expand our programs and research agendas in a wide variety of field,” Gavin said. “The Neag School is fully dedicated and engaged in helping students learn, and in making our students the best teachers they could possibly be. I’m glad to contribute to the effort in extending our research into all areas of the state and becoming even better.”
Besides providing philanthropic support, Gavin has been collaborating with current faculty in continued research on mathematics education for gifted and talented students. Her paper “Examining the Effects of Gifted Programming in Mathematics and Reading Using the ECLS-K,” co-written with Measurement, Evaluation and Assessment associate professor Betsy McCoach and former UConn doctoral student Jill Adelson, won the 2013 Gifted Child Quarterly Research Paper of the Year. Adelson is now an assistant professor at the University of Louisville.
Continuing to work with colleagues on Project M3 and Project M2, Gavin recently published “Nurturing Young Student Mathematicians” with Neag School Assistant Professor Tutita M. Casa. The paper outlines the philosophy, literature and best practices in the fields of gifted and mathematics education. She and her team are also creating and field testing three new mathematics education units.
“In order to thrive in our increasingly technological and global society, we need to develop creative leaders who are able to grapple with complex problems and figure out innovative ways to solve them,” Gavin said. “We need to continue to recognize and develop mathematical talent, as well as to challenge and engage students in every mathematics class, as they will be the future innovators and problem solvers of the world.”
Gavin continues to teach at UConn’s Confratute – Summer Institute for Enrichment Teaching and Learning, as well as provides professional development for teachers in districts around the country. She believes that raising both the expectations and capabilities of teachers will “have a more lasting effect on students for years to come.” A member of the state Department of Education Committee charged with helping develop standards for early childhood math education, Gavin is the author of Identifying and Nurturing Math Talent (The Practical Strategies Series in Gifted Education) and co-author of the middle school textbook series Math Innovations. She is the recipient of the Neag School of Education’s 2012 Distinguished Researcher Award. When not working, Gavin enjoys spending time with family and friends, especially her four grandchildren.
“Being able to work with teachers and help them see that young students can do so much more in mathematics meant a great deal to me. I’m glad to hear from so many teachers that they will never go back to their old way of teaching.” Gavin said.
To learn more about Gavin and her work, visit this video.