Partnership Mentors Middle School Teachers to Math Prowess

Released on 08/13/2004, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., August 13th, 2004 —

Within five years, 120 middle-level math teachers will be ready to help change the face of math education in Nebraska. A partnership involving the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a number of school districts statewide has received federal funding to support a post-graduate institute for middle-school mathematics teachers.

Math in the Middle Institute Partnership has received $5 million from the National Science Foundation to fund a five-year project. The partnership, dubbed M2 (M squared) has ambitious goals- to create a national model for developing middle-school mathematics teacher-leaders who will mentor peers and offer challenging courses to their students and to create a research program to study teacher learning and student achievement in mathematics.

The grant was announced Aug. 13 at UNL. Project partners include UNL, Lincoln Public Schools, Educational Service Units 6, 7 and 13, and 15 local school districts statewide.

"The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is extremely pleased to partner with Lincoln Public Schools and other Nebraska schools in this important effort," said Prem Paul, vice chancellor for research and dean of graduate studies at UNL. "This award recognizes the excellence of our mathematics and teacher education programs here at UNL and also builds on our long-standing and successful partnerships with Lincoln Public Schools."

Jim Lewis, professor of mathematics at UNL, is project leader. Co-leaders are Ruth Heaton, associate professor of teaching, learning and teacher education; Thomas McGowan, professor and chair of teaching, learning and teacher education, both of UNL; and Barbara Jacobson, director of curriculum and professional development for Lincoln Public Schools.

The project also aims to answer two general research questions. McGowan said the grant would attempt to validate the belief that deep knowledge results in better teaching that yields improved student performance. The researchers also hope to learn how teachers become leaders in their schools and districts.

Over the five years of the grant, four groups of about 30 teachers each will participate in 25-month-long cohorts. Teachers may opt to complete a master's degree in the program. Over the time frame, which includes three in-residence summer sessions and four non-resident academic semesters, the teachers will take 10 courses created by a team of mathematicians and pedagogy specialists.

Heaton said she is interested in studying the participants to see how they use their new knowledge and how that knowledge improves their students' learning. Participants will document their teaching, and researchers will study how teaching practices change over time. Heaton said few middle-level math teachers were math majors, and their levels of math knowledge vary widely.

Teachers accepted into the competitive program are expected to be among a district's best teachers, Lewis said. Their tuition is free, and they will be paid to attend. The expectation is that they become active leaders in their home districts, teaching their peers as well as their students. The first cohort of teachers will come from Lincoln Public Schools and from school districts within ESU Nos. 6, 7 and 13; in successive years, teachers from other Educational Service Units within Nebraska and from neighboring states will be accepted to the program. The first class begins this fall.

Jacobson said preliminary interest in the program is high, and she anticipates no difficulties in filling the first cohort. She hopes that at least one teacher from all 11 of Lincoln's middle schools will complete the program.

Lewis said the focus on middle-level teachers is deliberate. "We need to pay attention to what's happening in middle schools in order to be successful," he said. "We can't wait until high school to teach academic subjects seriously. By then, it's too late."

Middle-school success is critical to future academic success, Jacobson said. "Middle school is a really important time and we need to not lose kids at that point. Algebra is the gateway to academic success and really to all success in work and beyond. Kids who miss out on algebra really have difficulties making progress.

"The ultimate goal is higher student achievement," Jacobson said. "We want them to be not only successful in math but also in all levels of academic achievement."

The team has a special interest in learning how a university-ESU-local school district partnership can support mathematics education in Nebraska's rural schools. A total of 15 schools in Educational Service Units 6 (Milford), 7 (Columbus) and 13 (Scottsbluff) are part of the initial partnership, but over time, the goal is to benefit all 139 districts represented by the three ESUs and other Nebraska ESUs and local school districts. Other participating districts are: Malcolm Public, Norris School District 160, Waverly School District 145,York, Boone Central, Central City, Columbus, David City, Fisher's Public School, Humphrey, Schuyler, Alliance, Chadron, Gering and Morrill.

CONTACTS: Jim Lewis, Professor, Mathematics, (402) 472-7243;
Ruth Heaton, Associate Professor, Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education, (402) 472-1991;
Tom McGowan, Professor & Chair, Teaching, Learning & Teacher Education, (402) 472-2231;
Barbara Jacobson, Lincoln Public Schools, (402) 436-1000