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Wilfrid Laurier University’s Donna Kotsopoulos is at the forefront of reshaping mathematics education in Ontario.

Kotsopoulos, a professor in Laurier’s Faculty of Education and Department of Mathematics, will co-direct the the new Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER) Mathematics Knowledge Network, along with George Gadanidis, a professor in the Faculty of Education at Western University, and Dragana Martinovic, a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor and the co-director of the Center for Mathematics Education. The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences has been selected as the provincial host of the new network.

“My life’s work has been motivated by the view that the majority of people can do complex mathematics — that’s what the research tells us,” says Kotsopoulos. “I’ve taught elementary, high school and university-level students. I’ve always advocated for the intellectual teacher — someone who is adaptive and tries to be intuitive about the content but also about the students’ needs. Learning is about the quality of the teaching and the relationship you have with students.”

Through the Mathematics Knowledge Network, Kotsopoulos and her partners are working to enhance the teaching practices of Ontario’s educators, increase student achievement in the province, grow parent engagement, and ensure the translation of knowledge from the university to the classroom.

To accomplish its goals, the network established four communities of practice: mathematics leadership; critical transitions in student mathematical development; Indigenous knowledge and mathematics education; and computational thinking in mathematics education.

The network launched with 16 partners, including school districts, universities, organizational and community partners, such as the Association Francophone pour l’Enseignement des Mathématiques en Ontario; the First Nations, Métis & Inuit Education Association of Ontario; and the Ontario Association for Mathematics Education.

“A final partner that really brings us together on a connected platform — across languages and from northern to southern Ontario — is TVO through TeachOntario,” says Kotsopoulos.

The partnerships are a reflection of the relationships that Kotsopoulos and her colleagues have developed with people wanting to improve mathematics learning for children.

Kotsopoulos, whose research focuses on early mathematical cognition, learning, and education pedagogy, was part of the KNAER initiative launched in 2010 by the Ontario government.

KNAER aimed to get evidence-based practices into the hands of Ontario’s educators. As part of this initiative, Kotsopoulos partnered with D2L to explore how primary students in Ontario could use electronic portfolios to document their mathematical thinking.

“The first KNAER program was very successful, and based on the past six years of experience, Ontario’s Ministry of Education decided to take the network approach to another level,” she says. “Our Mathematics Knowledge Network proposal stood out on at least two dimensions: our communities of practice and our incredible community engagement and partnerships.”

Kotsopoulos, Gadanidis and other mathematics, science and engineering educators in the province have had a very long and robust relationship with the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences, which hosts the network. Based at the University of Toronto, it provides a central location in Ontario and an international platform for the new network. Laurier is an affiliate-sponsoring member of Fields.

“It’s exciting to be ambitious about how we can advance mathematics education in Ontario,” says Kotsopoulos. “I’m really grateful to Laurier for providing me with the opportunity and the time to lead this provincial network. It’s a real demonstration of the kind of commitment the university has to mathematics education and to the province.”

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