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Past Winners of the Teacher of the Week

Margaret McQuain


The Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research (CIDER) recognizes Margaret McQuain, advanced instructor of Mathematics, for her commitment to creating a small-class atmosphere when teaching large math classes by building community, incorporating collaboration and communication among the teacher and students alike, emphasizing critical thinking and problem solving skills, and making herself available to her students outside of class, however large the class.

Margaret McQuain has been a full time Instructor with the mathematics department since 1987. Before that time she was a part time instructor dating back to 1974. Margaret McQuain has always loved teaching and has worked with several student organizations over the years. In particular she has been a long standing adviser to the VT Campus Scouts and Alpha Phi Omega (APO). Both these organizations are student service organizations that work with the community. She is also a faculty representative to the Commission on Student Affairs.

Over the last 20 years the student population at Virginia Tech has grown and the finical support for the classroom has decreased due to the economic atmosphere of our time. This gave rise to the development of the Math Emporium. Margaret was part of the original team that developed the Math Emporium for which this team received the XCaliber Award (1999). In particular, she developed the business calculus with her colleague, Deborah Smith. The purpose was to reduce the number of student course failures by introducing applications, technology, and active independent student participation. It has proved very successful.

Margaret McQuain has taught large classes for many years (from 70 to 140 students). She teaches mostly freshman and sophomore level courses, which more recently includes the beginning calculus as well as differential equations and discrete mathematics. The discrete math course is very hard for most students because it is their first real abstract math course. It is very different from other courses that they may have had. She has been interested in presenting the best possible classroom experience possible for these large classes. Margaret has attended many conferences where she has both presented and attended workshops on large classes. She emphasizes that there are many methods available with both technology and in the traditional approach that are suitable for large classes.

Margaret’s main goal is to create a small class atmosphere for the students. Techniques she uses involve humor and interacting with the students as much as possible. In-class work helps engage the students and allows student to get to know each other. This creates a community. This allows the reticent student to be active in the class. Writing in the classroom is also a big part of her approach. It helps students to communicate but, more importantly, it helps students to think critically and logically. Margaret’s goal is to help students develop real problem solving skills, logical thinking skills and to be able to justify their assertions and conclusions clearly and unambiguously.

Margaret also maintains and active web page and list serve. The webpage is updated daily with information pertaining to the class and homework. This helps keep up interaction with the students. She also maintains a variety of office hours, which meshes well with the numerous student schedules.

Margaret has received several forms of recognition from her students that show their appreciation of her teaching. She was nominated for “Favorite Faculty” by several students during the 2008 to 2013 academic years. In addition, examples of comments written by students within Thank a Teacher notes (a CIDER teacher recognition program) follow:

“Thank you so much for all your help. This class was my last math class and I thought it was going to be my first withdrawal. I really appreciate all of your extra help in office hours and in the weeks leading up to the final. I cannot describe how happy I was when we got the final grades and I passed. I am not afraid to take hard classes anymore because of this. Thank you!!”

“I wanted to write a short letter of gratitude on my behalf for this semester’s 2214 Intro. To Diff. Equations class. I personally have always found math to be one my more challenging subjects, especially coming out of high school with no previous calculus experience. I am always worried at the beginning of each semester about my math class, wondering if I will be able to keep up or pass or etc. But I really feel like that was different for me this semester. I felt like I was never lost or far behind the class and just generally had an easier time understanding than normal. And I think it is because of your straight forward and example orientated teaching style. And for that I thank you. It hasn’t been as painful as a semester as I thought it was going to be. Best Regards.”

“Thank you for being such a great professor. I have been so impressed with all my math professors at VT but you have been my favorite so far. You always started my mornings off in a positive way, telling jokes in class, and overall making the classroom feel comfortable and conducive to learning. In your office hours, you were always approachable, kind and extremely helpful. You saw each student as an individual and treated students fairly. Thank you for all your effort and everything you do for your students.”

“She is a smart and nice woman who really cares about her students. She helps students learn and makes math fun. I really enjoyed her as a teacher.”

“Professor McQuain was always willing to help me with homework and personal questions even when she had to explain to me what was told before. She was a truly kind person; someone I want to model when I become a teacher in the future.”

Margaret McQuain continues to search for ways to improve methods of learning in large classes. One of her goals for the future is to work with CIDER to develop a web presence to be used as an interactive resource for instructors of large classes. She feels we can all learn from each other.


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