Meet Dr Ipek Saralar-Aras, a Turkish maths teacher conducting research on geometry and educational technologies!

How did you choose your field of study?

At the Middle East Technical University Graduation Ceremony – Ipek Saralar

I feel like I was born into the field of my study. I always was interested in solving problems in mathematics since my childhood. I chose mathematics and science, biology, chemistry and physics, as my elective courses when I was asked to choose in Bandırma Teacher Training High School in Turkey at the age of 16. It was an absolutely critical decision because many people were believing that it would be easier for me if I choose easier courses than these. They were right about the fact that it was not easy for me to study those courses. However, they missed one very important point that I really enjoyed studying them. I still do. I was ready to solve mathematics problems seven twenty-four and I did not regret my choices. I worked hard to pass courses equivalent to A level mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics which then led me to one of the best universities, the Middle East Technical University, in the capital of Turkey to study Mathematics Education. I was dedicated to learn more about mathematics and to find ways to encourage young people to learn more about it as well. The first step to do that was learning about how they learn mathematics and what could be done to change the way they were taught so that they became more willing to study further mathematics.

What is your scientific background?

At the University of Nottingham Graduation Ceremony with my father and mother – Ipek Saralar

As a part of my bachelor degree in mathematics education, I took research courses. As a final project of one of these research courses, I surveyed more than a hundred pre-service mathematics teachers about their knowledge of mathematics teaching. I found out that their knowledge could be improved in many subject-specific areas such as algebra and geometry as well as in areas including classroom management, pedagogy and technology integration into classes. I started to do a master’s degree in the same programme, Mathematics Education at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, immediately after I graduate. My focus was assessing pre-service teachers’ knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content throughout the internship process. I observed many lessons where pre-service teachers were teaching plenty of subjects integrating static and dynamic technologies. I found that there is an improvement in the knowledge of technology, pedagogy and content during the internship but that was not enough. While master’s, I started working as a mathematics teacher in a middle school where I mostly struggled with teaching geometry objects which require spatial thinking. I devoted effort to find effective ways to teach geometry and my secret help was the dynamic technologies which provided students dynamic visual representations of geometric objects. My second master’s degree at the University of Nottingham, in Learning Technology and Education, was focused on middle school teacher’s beliefs and goals regarding a free dynamic geometry software so that I could understand whether they found such tools effective to integrate to their classes. I observed their classes, interviewed with them, and they also filled a survey. The results showed that although all interviewed teachers found using dynamic geometry tools effective, I also came up with a list of challenges teachers reported about their and their students’ integration of these tools into their lessons. These three degrees lead me to do a PhD in Education in order to go deeper into help teachers teach geometry objectives requiring spatial thinking so that students could have a chance to study these geometry objectives with the help of dynamic technology tools.

Which topic are you working on at the moment? Why did you choose this topic and how do you think you’ll make a difference?

Designing a digital platform for teaching – First scratches – Ipek Saralar

I finished my PhD in Education in the Learning Sciences Research Institute of the University of Nottingham. This degree combined my all scientific background, mathematics education and educational technologies, and gave me an opportunity to help mathematics teachers in teaching geometry objectives such that students could learn and apply these into their daily lives. I focused on the geometry strand of mathematics and even more specifically on the teaching of two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional shapes constructed from unit cubes. In a broader sense, my PhD is on designing technology-based lessons to improve students’ understanding of three-dimensional geometry and thus hopefully their spatial abilities which includes many things from packing a luggage to navigation and map reading. I employed a design-based research methodology which is very common in learning sciences. I started with describing the difficulties in their own contexts, and then prepared the lesson plans which were eventually found to help students overcome these difficulties. I designed my lesson plans considering the RETA model. The RETA model, which I developed combining four principles, emphasises realistic, exploratory, technology-enhanced and active lessons for teaching geometry. After designing these lessons, I had chances to deliver them, and four mathematics teachers in two middle schools volunteered to deliver these lessons as well so that we checked their applicability and assessed their effectiveness. The final study of my PhD (study 4) was an experiment, which found that students who studied RETA-based lessons performed statistically better in a geometry test than students who studied traditional lessons. My hope is to spread the use of RETA model and improve students’ geometry performance in all levels. Finally, I would like to say that I had a waiting job in the Ministry of National Education in Turkey; therefore, after completing my PhD, I have started working there. My work includes working with a committee to revise the curriculum by integrating educational technologies.

Do you come from an academic family?

My family – My mother, father and sister – Ipek Saralar

Nope, but I always have my family’s encouragement in my studies. My mother Nilgun was a sewing teacher in a vocational school and my father Enver was a football player. A while after their marriage, they started running a small ice-cream shop together where I met most of my close friends and husband. From the childhood, I always was interested in the process of learning and teaching. My parents guided me very well in choosing the perfect matched school to my interests. I am really thankful to them as they encouraged me to go to a teacher training high school where I had a chance to study pedagogy courses in addition to mathematics and science courses at the age of 15. I fell in love with learning and then teaching mathematics at a very young age. My first and best student was my sister with whom I first experienced teaching anything – she studied Business Administration. She was born when I was 5 years old, I was an elder sister since then. I shared my experiences with my sister and helped her in her studies. I’m glad that she bared with me for long hours when I was teaching her many things about various topics.

In your opinion, which changes, if any, are needed in the scientific system to be more attractive to women in science and possible future scientists?

A girl playing with a car – Getty Images

People start experiencing the science world since childhood in their families. This means that everything starts with the family. Parents, especially mothers, who spent hours and hours with their children should have the awareness of raising them in a scientific environment. I am not talking about having a laboratory in the house. Parents could start buying toys which may lead their children to learn some science. Why most of the girls play with dolls and boys are playing with cars? There are many studies which conclude that playing toys with wheels may improve spatial thinking and mathematical abilities. Many fields in science require a certain level of mathematics. Girls tend to say they are not good at maths and prefer not to study mathematics in post-16. This choice decreases their opportunities to do many jobs in especially science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields that consequently decreases their chances to become possible future scientists.


You can contact Ipek via email at, LinkedInTwitter, and ResearchGate, and  follow her BlogSpot in English and in Turkish where you can find more about her education and publications.