Betsy Brenner

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Betsy 250

Betsy Brenner’s research looks at the effect of culture on learning, particularly in the area of mathematics. In much of her research she works with teachers to find methods of instruction that will enhance the academic achievement of students who have traditionally underachieved in American schools. She also does research in other nations because she believes that there is much to be learned from studying educational processes in a variety of contexts.

She did her graduate work in Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. Her dissertation research looked at how the western type schools in Liberia incorporated and conflicted with the local culture in both teaching methods and mathematical topics. After completing her Ph.D., she worked at the Kamehameha Early Education Program in Hawai‘i. She did basic research on what kinds of mathematics Native Hawaiian children learned out of school, and worked with teachers to use this information to develop culturally compatible instruction. After Hawai‘i, she taught in the SESAME program at UC, Berkeley and continued her research in Liberia on the differences between modern and traditional forms of education.

Since coming to UCSB in 1991, she has been examining how algebra can be taught more effectively, particularly for English language learners. Her research projects have used a variety of approaches, including the development and testing of curriculum based upon children’s lives and detailed studies of effective teachers who have implemented standards-based curriculum incorporating inquiry. Some more recent work has looked at how different forms of teacher professional development can enhance teachers’ abilities to work with diverse student groups. She has also worked with the Math in a Cultural Context Program with Jerry Lipka at the University of Alaska to develop and test mathematics curriculum units for Yup’ik children.

Another line of research examines non-formal educational programs in order to better understand how different kinds of learning environments can enhance student learning. Such programs have included a summer environmental science program for middle school students, a mentoring program run by a local school district, and a summer academic academy for elementary students. The most enduring of these programs is a computer program at the local Boys and Girls Club.

She currently teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara and lives in Goleta, California. This is a small urban area right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Although a relatively wealthy area, there are many children who live in low-income homes and many, many children begin school with a limited knowledge of English.

Her primary teaching responsibilities are in the areas of qualitative research methodology, educational anthropology, and mathematics education.