Our November Teaching Excellence Spotlight awardee is Dr. Kiko Kawamura, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics. Dr. Kawamura teaches a variety of course in the Department of Mathematics and uses active learning methods to engage students in their learning.
“My passion of teaching is to show students that math is not just memorization, but is more creative and beautiful like art.”
How long have you been teaching?
About 18 years at UNT.
What classes have you taught/do you teach at UNT?
I have taught a wide variety of mathematics classes, ranging from introductory general interest courses to senior-level probability courses. Recently, I mainly teach upper division math courses: MATH 2730 (Multivariable Calculus), MATH 3410 (Differential Equation I), and MATH 3680 (Applied Statistics).
How have you worked on developing your teaching skills?
When I came to Denton as a post-doctoral student, my spoken English was difficult for some to understand. In fact, I went to the IELI (Intensive English Language Institute) as a student starting with Level 3.
For the last 18 years, I have strived to overcome this communication barrier to become a more effective teacher. To this end, I constantly asked myself, “What are the key elements for effectively teaching mathematics in light of cultural differences and my noticeable Japanese accent?” Pursuing the answer to this question has helped me to establish my own teaching style.
Did you ever take formal classes or trainings on teaching in graduate school? What about later on in your teaching?
Not at all! I got all my education in Japan. Japanese graduate students have no duty to teach classes as a TA so that there does not exist such a class.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced teaching, and how did you overcome them?
English. Explaining a difficult math topic in English was a torture for me for the first year. But, I also realized that students are also suffering in my class!
“No one likes listening for a long time.” This is what I discovered in the US. It does not matter if the speaker is a native English speaker or not. So, I decided to explain concepts as “simple, short, and effective” as possible. To avoid boring students, I also encourage them to work together in teams during class and to present their ideas at the board. I also often use pictorial illustrations of mathematical ideas. Japan is “anime” country, and drawing crosses the language barrier!
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
Looking back to my childhood, I was slow at learning. Some “smart” people are good at organizing and memorizing formulas quickly and applying them without having deep understanding, but I am not. In fact, my grade for math was not great at all. My classmates were laughing at me because of my endless stupid questions in class.
I believe that mathematics is best learned by active class participation, and I structure my classroom to be an open and welcoming environment where students share their mathematical ideas.
My teaching passion is to show students that math is not just memorization, but is more creative and beautiful like art.
What resources do you find most helpful to your teaching practice?
Two colleagues from the math department (Dr. Neal Brand and Dr. John Quintanilla) are my examples. Their experience and well-prepared lecture notes helped me a lot.