Researcher to lead Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics

Zachary Champagne, an assistant in research with the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State.

Zachary Champagne, an award-winning teacher and a researcher with Florida State University’s Learning Systems Institute, has been elected president of the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

As president of the council, the state’s leading organization for math educators, Champagne will work to modernize the group’s outreach to include more beginning teachers.

“The first way to reach more teachers is to help strengthen local math councils and establish more local councils throughout the state,” he said. “Local affiliates provide the opportunity for teachers to meet and talk about mathematics and pedagogy. Through this conversation they can better their craft. This is especially important in smaller districts, where teachers may not have the resources to travel to the council’s annual conference.”

Before coming to Florida State, Champagne taught math and science in Duval County public schools, where he gained distinction for excellence in teaching math and science.

In 2007, the White House honored Champagne with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, the nation’s highest honor for teaching mathematics or science.

“I love teaching, I love that job,” Champagne said of his 13 years as an elementary school teacher, “but I found myself wanting to be pushed to learn about mathematics research and student thinking, and when an opportunity came for me to work on the Mathematics Formative Assessment System, I was excited to accept the challenge to work at such a dynamic and important place as the Learning Systems Institute.”

With the MFAS system, developed by LSI, teachers ask students to perform mathematical tasks, explain their reasoning, and justify their solutions. The objective is to understand student thinking so that teaching can be adapted to improve student achievement of mathematical goals related to the standards.

In his three years with LSI’s MFAS project, Champagne developed hundreds of tasks and rubrics “that basically started from an idea on a piece of paper that went through very detailed field testing and pilot testing in classrooms with students and teachers.” Those resources are now among the many available at for teachers using the MFAS method for teaching math in grades K-8.

As a researcher with roots in the classroom, Champagne would like to find ways to make education research more accessible.

“Teachers are interested in research and appreciate that it can improve their effectiveness,” Champagne said, “but it is hard for them to access studies and incorporate the findings into their profession.”

Teachers are, Champagne noted, busy professionals. “They have so much on their plate that they don’t have time or the means to get out and find that research and read it,” Champagne said.

The math council’s annual conference, which brings in teachers and researchers from around the state and nation, provides a way to bridge that gap between university research centers and the K-12 classrooms.

“Here’s an opportunity to learn from the research and be informed by the research without having to spend the hours compiling and reading through it all,” he said.

At LSI, Champagne is currently assisting Robert Schoen with implementation and evaluation of teacher professional development programs focused on increasing teachers’ knowledge of mathematics content and student thinking.

Champagne was the lead author, along with Schoen and Claire M. Riddell, of a recent article in Teaching Children Mathematics, the journal of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Champagne will serve as president-elect of the state math council until October, when he begins a two-year term as the head of the organization.

Schoen, associate director of LSI’s Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and a regional director with the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics, said Champagne will be a strong leader of the council.

“He is an experienced and accomplished teacher, someone who knows the realities of teaching, and a knowledgeable and capable researcher,” Schoen said. “He has the vision and understanding to make the Florida Council of Teachers of Mathematics more effective in helping shape education policy and more relevant to math teachers at all levels of experience.”