College of Education

Math Person: Q&A with math coach, author Dawn Jacobs M’19


Dawn Jacobs is K-5 math coach with the Lexington County School District One in South Carolina and a 2019 graduate of the College of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning program. She is the co-author of Math by the Book Second Grade, a resource that uses children’s literature to teach mathematical concepts. 

How long have you been teaching?

27 years

Where have you spent your career?

I have spent my entire career in the Lexington One school district. I was a third- and fourth-grade teacher for 14 years and then became a K-5 math coach, which I continue to do today.

What led you to math coaching?

When I was in the classroom, I served as the math content area lead for my district and led professional development for fellow teachers. What I realized through that experience was that I loved teaching about teaching.

Jacobs with teachers at table working on math lesson plan
Jacobs working alongside teachers on a math lesson plan.

Have you always loved math?

I didn’t hate math growing up, but I also didn’t feel like I was the strongest in that area. As a girl, I didn’t think much about it or focus on it. But when I started teaching and digging into the subject, I realized it could be interesting and fun. 

Why do we need math coaching?

Many elementary teachers, especially female teachers, declare that they are not a “math person” and inadvertently push a less-than-positive attitude about math as they teach it. We have to be careful not to carry over a negative mindset. So, as I work with teachers, I emphasize that everyone – teachers and students – can be a “math person.” It is all about having a growth mindset.

What do you do as a math coach?

The job varies from day to day. I go through a coaching cycle with teachers in two schools, meeting with them to see how I can assist them, providing model classes and small group lessons, and observing their teaching, if requested. The foundation is building trust with teachers – helping them with whatever they need and letting them know that I’m in this thing with them.

You are a graduate of the M.Ed. in Teaching and Learning program. How did that program help you in your path as a math coach?

My emphasis area was instructional coaching, so the program reminded me of what I already knew but sometimes overlook: that successful coaching involves remembering what it is like to be in a classroom, and letting teachers arrive at the answers to their own questions rather than telling them what to do. I’m a better coach because of the support and expertise of the M.Ed. faculty.

Jacobs leading a math lesson in a Lexington One classroom.

Tell us about your book.

The Math by the Book series uses children’s literature as a tool to explore and teach mathematical concepts. There is a book for each grade level – K-5 – and I worked on the second-grade book. As a co-author, I created 10 math lessons using children’s books as the springboard. Each lesson involves reading the book for pleasure, re-reading the book to discover the math references, and participating in games and activities that reinforce the math concept. The lessons cover such concepts as addition, subtraction, measurement and place value.

Why is it essential to use this approach to teaching math?

It is good for both teachers and students. For students, it gives math a context and provides a real-world connection that engages them. For teachers, especially those who gravitate more to reading than math, it allows them to use teaching tools they love and gives them more confidence as they teach.

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