Mar 182013
Student Jesse Robert and Diane Barrett

Associate Professor Diane Barrett (right) and student Jesse Robert, a Hawai‘i Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program recipient, or HiNTS scholar, in Barrett’s ED 343 Math for Elementary School class. The two are going over how to use manipulatives to break down the math content and make it more concrete for their future students. In this particular activity, they are exploring operations on the integers using two sided disks.

Diane Barrett

Diane Barrett

Diane Barrett is an associate professor of education at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. Her research mainly focuses on math education, including inquiry in the math and science classroom, pedagogical content knowledge, assessment, and the impact of teacher collaboration on student learning.

One of Barrett’s areas of research is “math anxiety.”

“Many people actually develop an anxiety related to math,” she says. “Often it begins in second or third grade and carries with them into adulthood. It usually occurs because they had difficulty learning a concept in math and instead of someone taking the time to help them, they are criticized and berated leaving a long term anxiety toward math.”

Barrett says many people cover up their math anxiety by saying they never liked math, but often it can be traced back to a particular experience early on in their math career.

“One of the most surprising discoveries of my research was that just a one-semester course that focuses on hand-on learning in mathematics can actually begin to undue years of math anxiety,” she says. “I have found that when we show students math can be fun and relevant, it takes much of the anxiety out of the classroom and makes students excited about math. It is more than just pushing symbols and memorization. When we use relevant hands-on learning we allow others to see the beauty in the mathematics that is all around us.”

Barrett has worked as a high school math teacher and currently teaches math and science education courses to undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students in addition to working with in-service teachers in UH Hilo’s master of education program. She also provides professional development for kindergarten through 12th grade teachers in mathematics aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

Barrett is currently collaborating with two of her UH Hilo colleagues on high school math curriculum for the state of Hawai‘i, with each taking the lead on a particular course .

“This includes writing the course outlines for Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II, the three courses that the mathematics portion of the high school exit exam is based upon,” she says. “I have the lead on the geometry course.”

The Hilo team is also working with teachers and the Department of Education to implement the curriculum.

In 2010, Barrett received a $769,700 National Science Foundation grant for the Hawai‘i Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program or HiNTS. Throughout its five years of funding, HiNTS provides stipends and educational technology to future secondary mathematics teachers while establishing a support structure of ongoing professional development and collaboration in mathematics education.

“Unique to this project is its focus on designing and implementing pedagogical models that meet the specific needs relating to Hawai‘i’s vast cultural and economic diversity,” she says.

Barrett says the HiNTS program provides annual Math Days and other outreach efforts with the goal of increasing the pipeline that draws talented mathematics majors from community colleges and lower-level UH Hilo mathematics courses. The program assists those students through teacher certification and licensure and into their first several years of teaching in high-needs Department of Education secondary schools, she says.

“UH Hilo is the sole institution in the state of Hawai’i to have a Noyce Scholarship program,” says Barrett. “HiNTS scholars will be uniquely positioned to develop innovative pedagogical approaches in mathematics focused on teaching ethnically diverse classrooms.”

While these pedagogical models target students of Hawaiian and mixed ancestry, they are also being shared by the HINTS scholars nationally at conferences and in publications, therefore serving as potential templates for other school districts with similar ethnic heterogeneity and dual urban-rural demographics.

Barrettt’s hopes for the future are to have highly qualified math teachers in classrooms across the state and to have them teaching math for conceptual understanding.

“Through HiNTS, my hope is to not only increase the number of math teachers but to have these teachers be able to reach their students by making math come alive for them,” she says. “By helping our children see and feel the math, they will actually understand and get excited about mathematics.”


Diane Barrett is an associate professor of education at UH Hilo. She received her master of science in mathematics from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and her doctor of philosophy in education from Claremont Graduate University, California. Contact info.