Professor Chris dutton makes math accessible for students

Mathematics –– it’s a word that makes many people tremble with fear, but not South Puget Sound Community College Professor Chris Dutton.

She has taught math at SPSCC for 27 years, and she said she still loves it. “Even though i’m at that age, i’m not looking to retire any time soon,” she said.

So what about us mere mortals who are scared to death of imaginary numbers and the quadratic equation? Dutton has found that students who are struggling with math can remember back to a traumatic incident in their past when they first hit the wall.

“A lot of times, they can think back to when they had a bad teacher in fifth grade, or their dad would help them and always yell at them,” she said.

For her struggling students, Dutton has come to the conclusion that a big part of her job is convincing people that they can do it. “Compared to teaching junior high, there’s less convincing necessary, which makes it nice,” she said.

“Abstract reasoning ability appears to keep growing until people are in their 40s. So, algebra, which is really abstract arithmetic, abstract mathematics –– they really could be better at it now when they’re coming back to it,” Dutton said.

Dutton said that, before she realized she could do this for a living, she started tutoring in high school. The students were struggling with algebra, and she said she seemed to connect with them better than the regular teachers. She said she took 10 students and taught them for a year in a free classroom, something that probably would not happen today. She said it was before schools “were so uptight about things.”

She attended Central Washington University for her undergraduate degree, changing her major several times. She ended up with a double major, taking 18 to 20 credits per quarter, and spending an extra quarter in order to graduate.

When Dutton got married, she moved back to Washington so her husband could finish his education, and she got any teaching job she could. She taught K-12 for a while, ranging from fifth grade to high school to junior high.

“It was a good thing junior high wasn’t my first teaching experience, because it’s pretty rugged,” she said.

Dutton continued her own education, taking one course at Pacific Lutheran University, and ultimately earning a masters in math education from the College of Idaho. she ended up teaching at SPSCC after that, and has been here ever since.

Currently, Dutton is grappling with the shift to more online education. “This year’s been harder, really, because of making more of this move into online approaches,” she said. She’s spent the better part of this year making online videos of her lectures, as well as working on them through last summer.

Since this involves talking to a camera in an empty room, she said she’s had to adjust to a lack of questions from students, and she said she makes sure her presentation in the video is satisfactory, since the software’s a little limited when it comes time to edit videos.

Dutton said that the whole math department is trying to streamline their education process, particularly with regards to the 90-level math classes, offering more online, hybrid and modular math options. If a math student just needs a slight refresher course, they have the option of starting with math 90 and going through to math 99, depending on how fast they work.

Dutton said she still prefers face-to-face teaching, but also appreciates the online aspect of the class work, since this can help home-bound students, or students with children who have very little time for schoolwork.