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ASU mathematics educator receives NSF Career Award

May 03, 2010

Impacting how middle school students learn statistical reasoning, and how their teachers teach such reasoning, is the aim of a National Science Foundation-funded research project by Arizona State University mathematics educator Luis Saldanha. The assistant professor in the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences is one of ASU’s latest recipients of an NSF Career Award, a prestigious grant that recognizes young scientists and engineers showing potential for leadership in significant research areas.

The award comes with a grant of $638,805 to use over a five-year period beginning this fall.

In this NSF project, Saldanha will explore the possible role of variability as a central concept around which to organize the learning and teaching of statistical thinking among middle school students. It builds on his broad area of research – mathematical education, with a focus on cognitive modeling of mathematical thinking and learning as it relates to the principled design of instruction.

Saldanha’s research was inspired by his dissertation work in which he explored the learning of statistical interference among high school students. There, he noticed that it can be difficult for students who have already been in school for 10 years or more to think and talk about mathematical and statistical ideas from a sense-making perspective and with an orientation to understanding those ideas.

“Being statistically literate is increasingly becoming an important set of critical thinking skills for an educated and informed citizenry,” he says. “Almost all of us are confronted with reports and conclusions based on quantitative information derived from samples drawn from populations.

“From an educational perspective, the proposed research is important because we need greater insight into the kind of instruction that can foster the development of such thinking skills, particularly at earlier levels of schooling and development.”

To conduct this research, Saldanha will study groups of seventh graders at a local middle school. The first phase of the research will consist of having students fill out questionnaires about concepts of variability and will be followed up by interviews to fully analyze their thinking. The second phase, beginning in the spring semester, will entail testing of instructional innovations and research of the effects of those innovations.

The proposed project integrates research on learning and teaching in a way that will impact not only the learning of middle school student participants, but more broadly the learning of middle school teachers who participate in the professional development workshop designed to disseminate project findings and insights among the local community.

“Luis Saldanha’s research will result in practices in middle schools that make students more aware of the importance and relevance of statistics in daily life. When they get to a later stage of their education, they will appreciate better the role of statistics in research,” says Wayne Raskind, professor and director of ASU’s School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Saldanha, who has been teaching at ASU since 2008, received a doctoral degree in mathematics education in 2004 from Vanderbilt University. He also has a master’s degree in the teaching of mathematics and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Concordia University in Canada.


Written by Danielle Legler ( for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Carol Hughes,