Have you met… Dr. Josh Markle?

The assistant professor of math education talks about spatial reasoning and embodied cognition, his teaching philosophy and which Alberta city he actually likes best

Faculty of Education - 11 September 2023

Josh Markle beside U of A signTell us about yourself!

My name is Josh Markle and I am an assistant professor of mathematics education. I primarily work with pre-service elementary teachers, but I also teach a course in our graduate certificate program in mathematics education.

What brought you to the U of A Faculty of Education?

The U of A’s mathematics education faculty are internationally renowned and many of them were significant influences on my classroom teaching and scholarly work before I joined the Faculty. Moreover, they’re very kind, welcoming people and it’s been a real honour to work alongside them. (This goes for all my non-math-ed colleagues, too.) I also like the benefits of working at a larger institution. I’ve had such support for my research and teaching and I get to meet new and interesting people all the time.

What are your current research interests?

In terms of mathematics teaching and learning, I mostly focus on spatial reasoning. I also draw extensively on theories of embodied cognition, which see mathematics learning as more than just a brain-based phenomenon. I am in the beginning stages of a project that seeks to understand how preservice teachers’ sensory experiences of mathematics impact the way they engage and design math tasks for the classroom. Sensory experience is not something one typically thinks about in teaching or learning math, but our senses of balance, motion, and body position can all play critical roles. I am also working with my colleagues Dr. Janelle McFeetors and Dr. Mijung Kim on a project looking at the role of spatial visualization in Alberta’s new mathematics and science curricula. We worked with some wonderful teachers from St. Albert Public and Edmonton Catholic Schools this past year to explore connections between visualization and our embodied, material experience. I collaborate with Dr. Lynn McGarvey and Dr. Jennifer Thom (University of Victoria) on a project that looks at how younger children engage with projective geometry. And I continue to work with Dr. Jo Towers, who was my supervisor at the University of Calgary, on the development of a framework for describing and interpreting bodily action, such as gesture, in the mathematics classroom. So, as you can see, I am really interested in spatial reasoning and embodiment in the math classroom.

What inspired you to enter this field?

Education is interesting because you often hear people describe feeling called to the profession. I took a more circuitous route. I think it is easier for me to say what keeps me here, which is that it is such an unfailing source of new and interesting questions.

Describe your teaching philosophy.

This is a big one…

I’ve had the good fortune of learning from great teachers. I took classes from Dr. Towers and Dr. Brent Davis at the University of Calgary, both of whom exemplify the importance of listening in teaching. We teachers tend to talk far too much! They also know how to ask new and interesting questions, which is as important in teaching as it is in research.

I draw a lot from Martha Nussbaum’s work on the idea of capability. When I taught high school, I wanted my students to realize mathematics in their lives in ways that they had reason to value, not in the ways I or someone else said they should value it. The same goes for working with pre-service teachers. Solving equations, lesson planning, these are all obviously important, but I try to orient my teaching around a question of “what can you be?” and not just “what can you do?”

More generally, but especially in the classroom, I try to heed some advice from the author Georges Simenon: “Understand and judge not.”

What are your impressions of the U of A so far?

The U of A is excellent. I’ve been most impressed by the quality and commitment of the students I’ve had the opportunity to work with. More generally, Edmonton is a great city. The river valley is world class. I most recently taught at Brock University in St. Catharines, but my partner and I are both from Calgary. We’re not supposed to say this, but we think Edmonton is way better than Calgary.

What interests you outside work?

I spend a lot of time outside. I like cycling, running and gardening, and I most often do these with my wife Marissa, who is a better cycler, runner and gardener than I am. We spend a lot of time with our two black labs, McNulty (4) and Wilbur (13). I like to fish, hike, and look at birds and plants. When not outside, I am into books and film.