Partners in Research Mathematics Ambassador 2017
Nathalie Sinclair, Faculty of Education

March 14, 2017

Nathalie Sinclair, Canada Research Chair in Tangible Mathematics Learning, has been named as Canada's 2017 Mathematics Ambassador by Partners in Research. The PiR National Awards recognize and honour excellence in Canadian research as well as commitment to promoting the benefit of one's research through public outreach. The Awards will be presented on May 9th in Ottawa.

Prof. Sinclair is fascinated by the potential of technology to bring mathematics to life. She has improved understanding of the roles of dynamic thinking and aesthetics in mathematics learning, drawing on theories of embodied cognition. Her dissertation about the beauty of math led to the publication of her first book, Mathematics and Beauty: Aesthetic Approaches to Teaching Children (2006). This in turn brought her into the underexplored area of the practices of mathematicians and how they change with time and place. Her books Mathematics and the Aesthetic: New Approaches to an Ancient Affinity (2006, co-edited), Mathematics and the Body: Material Entanglements in the Classroom (2014, co-authored), and The History of the Geometry Curriculum in the United States (2008) are unique contributions to appreciating the impact of mathematics on society. She has also co-authored three books for developing teachers’ skills in mathematics education. Her ultimate goal is to empower children to engage with mathematics, using the power of technology to open to its utility and beauty and transforming the way they approach the oft-maligned subject.

Based on her research, she has designed several novel tools that enable learners to interact with mathematics concepts in tangible ways that facilitate deeper understanding—in her words, giving students “the freedom to think both about the microworld and with it” (Sinclair, Zazkis & Liljedahl, 2003). The online Colour Calculator presents results in a colour-coded table to help students visualize the characteristics and relationships of fractions and decimals, and Number Worlds allows learners to virtually explore elementary number theory (Sinclair, Zazkis & Liljedahl, 2006). A decade ago, such tools took on a new significance for Sinclair when she lost the ability to interpret letters and numbers following brain surgery, and found that using tactile gestures and tracing shapes was crucial to her recovery. This experience led her to co-develop the free iPad app, TouchCounts, which has been shown to develop young children’s fluency in counting and adding (Sinclair & Heyd-Metzuyanim, 2014). Her tools have been used extensively in daycares, classrooms and research studies across North America and internationally—TouchCounts has been downloaded over 80,000 times across ten countries and translated into six languages, including two First Nations’ languages.

Prof. Sinclair’s research in mathematics education has been widely influential in both Canada and internationally, generating collaborations in Italy, the UK, Israel, Australia, and the USA. She is often invited as a plenary speaker, program committee member and working group leader at major conferences, and to present lectures at international universities. In addition to serving as associate editor of For the Learning of Mathematics, she is the founding editor of the new journal Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education.

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Dr. Nathalie Sinclair is a full professor in SFU’s Faculty of Education and a Canada Research Chair in Tangible Mathematics Learning. In 2008, she was co-recipient of the Janet Duffin award which goes to the author(s) of what is judged to be the most outstanding contribution published in the journal Research in Mathematics Education each year. She is also an associate editor of For the Learning of Mathematics and is founding editor for the journal Digital Experiences in Mathematics Education. She is author of Mathematics and Beauty: Aesthetic Approaches to Teaching Children (2006) and Mathematics and the Body: Material Entanglements in the Classroom (2014), among other books. Her primary research concerns the role of digital technologies in the teaching and learning of mathematics, focusing on multitouch devices and geometry, as well as early number sense.