All posts by Krysten Pampel

Tough Times Create Tough People

by Dr. Krysten Pampel and Dr. Ashley Nicoloff

In my life as an educator, I have been faced with many difficult situations that were hard for me to navigate. The one that has stuck with me the longest was when I was teaching high school. I had two brothers who were both taking my algebra course, one a freshman and the other a junior. The only day that they both attended my class was the first day of school, from there on out I only ever had one of the brothers. About two weeks into the school year, I approached the older brother to enquire why I only saw him every other day. He chose to be vague and blame illness and bad timing of a family emergency. I didn’t push but I watched for another two weeks as the brother continued their alternating attendance in my class. They were both doing reasonably well in my course and they weren’t hurting anyone but the situation bothered me.

I decided that enough was enough, I needed to get to the bottom of this unusual behavior. I approached the younger brother this time and asked about the unusual attendance pattern. The younger brother explained that they were alternating days to attend because they had two non-school aged siblings at home and their mother was working a second job. They had to alternate attendance in order to make sure that the siblings at home were cared for.

I was astounded that this was the reason but checked with the older brother the next day to confirm the story since I was unable to get the mother on the phone, understandably, in the previous weeks. The older brother asked me to keep this quiet and that he appreciated my willingness to work with him and his brother for the assignments and tests. He admitted to me that they had been doing this alternating attendance for the past two years and he was excited to have his brother in high school so it could work more effectively.

I explained to him that I could not keep our conversation a secret and I would speak with the social worker to see if there could be any support given. It was risking to bring in the social worker since in some cases the students flee the school as a way to avoid the conversations that follow. In this case, I was happy that everything worked out. The school was able to find support for the family so that the younger children could receive care, their mother could work, and both brothers could attend school regularly.

This was a difficult situation for me to navigate but those two brothers were the ones that had “difficult situations.” Those two brothers will forever be a reminder to me that “tough times create tough people.”


Assessment Success in the Mathematics Department

Written by Dr. Ashley Nicoloff and Dr. Krysten Pampel

As the department assessment coordinator (DAC), I have the opportunity to help my entire department assess each of their sections in the fall semester and analyze the assessment results in the spring semester. I would like to use this opportunity to share the yearly assessment process that our department goes through.

In the Fall we assess every section taught in the math department using google forms. This means that our 300+ sections of MAT and CSC courses are assessed. The course level assessments that we give are built by the course coordinators and the team of instructors that teach that course. Each assessment is roughly 7 questions in length and is projected to take no more than 15 minutes of class time.

As the faculty are giving the course level assessment through the fall, I as the DAC, record which sections have taken the assessment. I then send out reminder emails about the course level assessment with the number of completed sections so far. Many of the instructors like to use the course level assessment as a quick review near the final which makes me nervous since it always feels like there is less time near the end of the semester. During finals week, I send out the results of the number of sections that took the course level assessment.

In the Spring, I meet with all the course coordinators during the week of accountability to clean and review the data. We also take the opportunity to report the findings of the data if time allows. During the spring semester, the course coordinators meet in person or virtually to discuss the results with their instructional teams and how they want to proceed for next year. Sometimes there are rewrites to an entire course-level assessment, sometimes we change the placement of answer choices, and occasionally we leave everything alone in order to collect more data. I take all the changes that are requested and I update all the course level assessments in digital and google form format.

Before the fall semester, I meet with the course coordinators to have them verify the changes to the course level assessments and ensure that the assessments are ready for responses. This meeting also allows me the opportunity to update them on any changes in assessment for the academic year. This could be anything that I learn from the DAC meetings or something that comes down from the district.

I am very proud of the math department sticking with this assessment cycle and being willing to give up some class time to assess their sections of students. This information has helped us guide instructional moves and department-wide strategies to provide our students at GCC with the best MAT and CSC instruction across all sections we teach. The data we collect also assist the college in keeping the accreditation status with the higher learning commission.


Future Focused: A Glendale Community College Value

Written by Dr. Krysten Pampel & Dr. Ashley Nicoloff

One of the top GCC values a faculty needs to be successful is being future-focused. When thinking of future-focused faculty some characteristics come to mind: (1) life-long learner, (2) the desire to stay relevant, and (3) willing to change things up in their teaching and mindset.

As defined by GCC, future-focused is enhancing innovative and forward-thinking perspectives and approaches to prepare students for evolving educational, workforce, and societal needs.

Faculty that attend to this GCC value might find themselves researching the changing trends in our student population. The GCC CTLE held a Summer Book Club where the book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us by Dr. Jean M. Twenge (link to book) Faculty who employ this value might research their field or content to see the trends in the needs of business and careers associated to their field.

In order to shake up their teaching styles and meet the needs of our every changing student population, future-focused faculty might take the opportunity to participate in the Reimagine Project. The Reimagine Project takes faculty from every discipline (residential and adjunct) and leads them on an in-depth look at 5 different teaching strategies (problem-based, project-based, flipping the classroom, community-based, and learning communities).

Glendale Community College has multiple opportunities to help future-focused faculty grow and find success. Through those efforts, we as faculty can help our students gain a new future-focused view on their education and future careers. One of the opportunities is led by Dr. Gabriela Cojanu in the Business Information Technology Department. She has designed an Innovation Summit where students will learn about entrepreneurship, paths to innovation, and to share their ideas in a “Shark Tank” style competition for cash prizes! (link to flyer)


Relationship Building

I find that making lasting relationships with other faculty members challenging. I am not sure why but this has always been a struggle for me, even before GCC. I know that the faculty here at GCC are all trying to create quality instruction for their students and we are all attempting to help our students achieve their goals.If any relationship should be easy to build it should be this type. We all have a good amount of job related characteristics that we share. However, I still find it difficult. FYRE has probably been the best way for me to meet faculty outside of my department but within my department opportunities are limited.

I want to feel connected with the faculty here at GCC and I believe the best way to do this is to start saying yes to extracurricular events. I am not a huge fan of happy hour but this might be the best way to build lasting relationships with my fellow faculty members.

When making relationships with Staff, I feel more at ease. I feel comfortable coming to the staff for help on pretty much everything. This level of comfort helps me to connect with the staff. I get to learn about their families and we can usually find common interest fairly easily. These relationships mean a lot to me and I put forth a good deal of effort in making connections with the staff.

Creating relationships with my students is the easiest for me. I have had a good amount of practice since I have taught for 10 years. I like to start my semester off with introductions surrounding their hobbies, interests, and long term academic goals. This helps me connect with the students outside of them being in my class. I also start to learn their names fast since I can parallel their hobbies with their names.


Making up for Week 3

I was recently blessed to become a mom to a wonderful little boy.

I knew that becoming a mother meant that I would have to give up some of the finer things I enjoyed. Like sleep! Especially sleep! What I didn’t know was how much I would gain in becoming a mother.

I have always been a Type A personality, to a fault at times. The best part about children is their lack of concern about the plans you make.

My son does not care if I was planning to wear a certain outfit to work. He is more than happy to spit up all over my clothes. This reminds me to be flexible.

My son does not tell me exactly what he needs but instead cries for everything, i.e. food, diaper, pain, etc. This forces me to listen carefully to his cries. There are subtle differences that can be made if I choose to enact good listening skills.

My son reminds me that setting small goals and enjoying the moment is important. Since some days I feel very accomplished if I can take a shower.

My son has also shown me that I can be gentle, kind, and loving. These are all things that I felt like I was lacking prior to his arrival. I feel blessed to be a mother and I am excited for the life lessons I will learn as parent.


New Faculty Jitters

It is hard being the “new kid.” I had forgotten what it was like to fear sharing my thoughts with other and this has led me to re-learning a lesson about being myself.

For the last 4 years, I had been apart of graduate school cohort. All the members of this cohort started the program at the same time. We had the opportunity to grow and develop together. We quickly relied on each other as a way to survive in our graduate program. In this cohort, I was able to speak my mind and have very little fear of offending someone or feeling like my opinion was not valued.

Starting at GCC this last semester was exciting and nerve-racking since I would be the “new kid” in the department. Upon joining the department, I found that everyone was nice and willing to assist me if I had a problem with students or needed help with resources. I automatically felt relaxed and welcomed. But I still did not feel comfortable sharing my thoughts with others for fear of being ostracized. The problem with being the “new kid” is wanting to fit in.

I wanted to feel like a member of this new department. However, I started to feel disconnected and moody since I had been keeping my thoughts to myself.  I had to tell myself that I am still allowed to have an opinion even if the rest of my department does not agree.

So for the last three weeks, I have been sharing my thoughts and opinions with others in my department. I do not believe that I have offended anyone and I am feeling more like a contributing member of my new community.

This first year at GCC has reminded me that I like who I am and my thoughts matter. Regardless of wanting to fit in, I need to share my thoughts in order to be a valuable member in my department.


Seeking Time-Turner

A time-turner, for all of you who have not read the Harry Potter book series, is a device that allows the wearer to travel back in time.


As you can see it is also very fashionable. Hermione used the time turner to attend classes that occurred at the same time during her third year at Hogwarts.

If I had the chance to use a time-turner regularly, like Hermione, I would use it to research more at the community college level. Since completing my Ph. D. last semester I have missed researching classroom interactions. I find that between teaching full-time and being a new mom, I am stretch pretty thin when it comes to time.

I would love to have more time to improve our students mathematics classroom experience through research. I have colleagues in my department with NSF grants that fund their research and I am in awe of them teaching full course loads and conducting research.

This is where the time-turner would come in handy. I would teach my classes but then be able to turn back time and be in my office hard at work creating and implementing a research study of my design. I would also write journal articles that will help spread my findings to the community college and greater mathematics education community.

The benefit would be the chance to help mathematics instructors improve their teaching and in return help students in their mathematics classrooms achieve a better understanding of the concepts.

Since I will have to live without a time-turner for the foreseeable future, I plan to find some stability in my teaching load and work/life balance.

My current goal is to survive this first year as a residential faculty member with an overload and enjoy being a new mom. In the next year, I am planning to join one of the research groups that is already in my department. This will allow me to dip my toe back into the research pool. Eventually, I would like to be the one awarded an NSF grant to conduct research here at GCC.


Distribution Problem

When teaching a pre-algebra course the distribution property for the first time, I had unique incident occur in my classroom. The students had been working to develop an understanding of the distribution property using whole numbers.

For example; 4(3+2) can be simplified by adding 3 and 2 together and then multiplying by 4 giving the result of 20. However, you can also use the distribution property to simplify the expression 4(3+2) by first distributing (multiplying the 4 to both the 3 and the 2) this simplifies to 12+8, which simplifies to 20.

After the students had been using the distribution property for the class hour, we came back together to try some more complex expressions. I asked the question which property should we use to simplify the expression. There was an overeager student that really wanted to answer the question. I went ahead and called of the student. I was so surprised to hear that the property we should use if the DISTRIBATION property. Needless to say I lost my students to a fit of laughter.

Distribation Property: when a student tries to answer a question too fast.


 Why Math?! Why?!

Ever since I can remember I have been a driven person. My parents still to this day comment on the anxiety I use to give them when I asked what we were going to do today. Come to find out I was not okay if they did not have a plan in place or decided to change the plan. My mentality has not changed much from when I was little. I still make plans and execute them. This has served me well in life and has helped me achieve my goals. As you can probably guess everyone does not have the same thoughts about planning and execution. I experienced two mathematics teachers during my freshman year that helped to shape me into who I am today.

My math teacher was unorganized and chose to run her class in “organized chaos.” The students in the class behaved well and there were very little problems but she provided very little order in her lessons. The biggest concern I had was that she only excepted problems to be solved in one way, her way. She came across as unprepared and inflexible to me, and frustration set in. Math which was one of my favorite subjects became one of my least favorite. I passed the class but was starting to feel like math was not going to be “my thing” anymore. Mind you this was my first experience with a teacher like this and I was ready to call it quits.

In the second semester of my freshman year, I took another math course with a different teacher. This math teacher not only had a plan in his lesson but showed the entire class multiple ways to solve each problem. He told us that we, as students, have options when solving problems. This class helped me to explore different strategies when solving problems which made the class more interesting. We were no longer looking for the right answer rather how many ways we could get to the right answer. This is when I started to see math as a puzzle that can be solved in multiple ways, starting with the edge pieces or the middle, with the same resulting picture.

My experience as a freshman in high school was what shaped me into the mathematics teacher I am today. I strive to provide my students with multiple strategies to complete problems. I also encourage them to explore and find other strategies to solve problems. I was given the opportunity to see that I could make multiple plans, execute those plans in multiple ways, and still each my goals. It is my hope that I can help my students to realize the same thing is possible for them.