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Call it an epiphany, an a-ha moment, or just a realization—many students have had the experience of having a subject go from opaque to crystal clear, particularly in mathematics. What if a teacher could deliberately make moments like those happen instead of waiting for them to come? That was the question behind research that current mathematics teacher Allyson Derocher helped with during her undergraduate experience at BYU.

“In math, there’s always a right or wrong answer, but the research helped me realize there’s more to learning math than the answers,” she says. “It gave me a better understanding of what students are thinking when they learn, so now I can explain concepts in different ways and explore ways to help students think mathematically.”

Allyson came to BYU thinking she wanted to be a pharmacist. But after spending time with some mathematics education majors, she registered for a math education class, and halfway through the semester, she changed her major.

“I struggled with math growing up,” she says. “But that’s one way you can tell you’re learning—that productive struggle. So that’s been a huge advantage in teaching because I’ve been there before.”

The next semester, Allyson applied for a research position and then found herself viewing and parsing hours of video footage of students learning math in the classroom. As she watched students wrestle with mathematical problems, she saw learning math through a new lens.

“It helped me identify moments when I could build on student thinking,” she says. “I already felt so passionate about everything I was learning in my classes, but this extra experience made it even better.”

Now, Allyson is teaching math to a challenging demographic—middle schoolers. Fortunately, because she had that research experience, she entered the classroom ready for what was ahead.

“I definitely think it made me a better teacher,” she says. “I wish everybody could have that kind of experience. It was one of the highlights of my experience at BYU, and whatever people can do to support research and mentored learning is great.”