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Joanne Lobato
Joanne Lobato
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How do people use the mathematics they learn in school to solve real world problems? How can mathematics be learned so that it is generalizable to novel situations rather than being useful only to pass the next test?

These are the kinds of questions that consume Joanne Lobato's research time.

"I'm looking at how children generalize or transfer their learning experiences," Lobato said. "What distinguishes students who are able to learn mathematics in such a way that it's generalizable in productive ways versus students who seem to make unproductive connections?"

Lobato, a professor of mathematics education in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics in the College of Sciences, primarily investigates the generalization of mathematics learning to novel situations through a series of qualitative, observational school-based research studies conducted in a number of middle and high schools in the San Diego region.

"Understanding how learning specific mathematical concepts can result in general knowledge is one of the hardest, but most important, problems in mathematics education research," Lobato said. "Researchers have been more successful in showing how people fail to transfer learning than they have been in producing that transfer."

Lobato, who joined SDSU in 1996, has had continuous external funding during her time at the university and has received a total of $3.3 million from the National Science Foundation and The Spencer Foundation. She's also had the unusual record of a 100 percent success rate on all grant proposals submitted.

As a leader in the field of mathematics education research, she has published in top journals, including the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Educational Researcher and Mathematical Thinking and Learning. She has also been invited to present papers at research symposia internationally and serves as the editor of the transfer strand for the Journal of the Learning Sciences. In 2005, she organized a National Science Foundation-sponsored international conference in San Diego on the transfer of learning.

Under her tenure as the SDSU director of the joint-Ph.D. program in mathematics and science education with University of California San Diego, the program was ranked seventh in the nation in 2007 in a research study published by the American Mathematical Society and, in 2008, was ranked No. 2 in the country for best mathematics education doctoral program by Academic Analytics. The joint-Ph.D. program has the largest number of mathematics education researchers of any such program in the country.
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