$9.3 million will support UNL-schools partnership to boost math skills

Released on 10/01/2008, at 2:00 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., October 1st, 2008 —

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has received a $9.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation for "NEBRASKA MATH," a statewide program aimed at improving mathematics achievement for all students and narrowing the achievement gap for at-risk students in kindergarten through third grade.

"NEBRASKA MATH" is a partnership of UNL, the Lincoln Public Schools, Grand Island Public Schools, Papillion-La Vista Public Schools and 14 rural Educational Service Units. It builds on the success of UNL's Math in the Middle Institute, funded in 2004 by a $5 million NSF grant, which is improving student achievement in middle school mathematics and reducing the achievement gap for students across Nebraska. "NEBRASKA MATH" will build on that program and initiate three new programs that focus on enhancing teachers' knowledge of mathematics and teaching methods: "Primarily Math," which will work with K-3 teachers; "Ensuring Success in Algebra for all Students," a program for algebra teachers; and "Retaining Quality Teachers," a professional development opportunity for new secondary mathematics teachers.

"This award enables UNL and our partners to expand to schools across the state our successful efforts in improving math achievement," said UNL chancellor Harvey Perlman. "It recognizes the excellence of UNL's mathematics and teacher education programs and builds on our long-standing and successful partnerships with Lincoln Public Schools."

The "NEBRASKA MATH" program will support graduate education coursework for 300 teachers and engage more than 800 teachers in activities to strengthen their mathematics teaching and learning. By supporting programs for teachers, NEBRASKA MATH expects to have a direct impact on 40,000 K-3 students and 10,000 high school students during the five years funded by the grant.

"'NEBRASKA MATH' offers us the opportunity to build a sustainable K-12-university partnership that can significantly improve mathematics education in our K-12 schools," said project leader Jim Lewis, professor of mathematics and director of the Center for Science, Mathematics and Computer Education at UNL.

Lewis's co-leaders on "NEBRASKA MATH" are Ruth Heaton, associate professor of teaching, learning and teacher education; Carolyn Pope Edwards, Willa Cather professor and professor of psychology and child, youth and family studies; Ira Papick, professor of mathematics; Walter Stroup, professor and head of statistics; Thomas McGowan, professor and chair of teaching, learning and teacher education, all of UNL; and Barbara Jacobson, director of curriculum and professional development for Lincoln Public Schools.

"Research tells us that the greatest factor in student learning is the teacher," Jacobson said. "This grant will help us to continue to upgrade the content knowledge and instructional skills of our teachers and that will have a direct impact back into the classroom and on student achievement."

An important element of the project is a study of how the different approaches schools use in K-3 math education, such as math coaches and classroom teachers who work as math specialists, affect young children's learning.

"Our goal is to better understand what mathematical attitudes, knowledge and habits of mind K-3 teachers need to possess to best help young children acquire strong mathematical foundations," said Ruth Heaton, project co-leader. The study draws on the expertise of UNL faculty from several disciplines, including teacher learning and teacher education, psychology, statistics, mathematics; child, youth and family studies, and from several Nebraska public school districts, Heaton said.

This kind of leadership in cutting-edge mathematics education is vitally important to Nebraska, said Prem Paul, UNL vice chancellor for research and economic development. "A knowledge and understanding of math is essential if our students are going to achieve in college and in the workforce," he said. "This project will help ensure that Nebraska students can compete in the global economy."

The team has a special interest in expanding its partnerships with the Educational Service Units and local school districts to support mathematics education in Nebraska's rural schools.

"In our Math in the Middle Institute we initially partnered with three ESUs but the partnership grew to include all 14 rural ESU partners and 63 local school districts," Lewis said. "We can do even more with 'NEBRASKA MATH.' This is truly a statewide effort and can serve as a national model for how the state university works with K-12 education leaders to benefit both rural and urban students, teachers and schools."