Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report - S16
November 12, 2014
Making Sense of the Math: The Common Core in Practice > www.edweek.org/go/math-report
Changes Eyed for Math-Teacher Prep
looks to adapt
to common core
AREAS OF STUDY
Participants in the Mathematics
Teacher Education Partnership
are piloting new approaches
across several dozen universities
in the following areas:
By Stephen Sawchuk
ven in higher education, where knowledge-sharing is
prized, institutions have a tendency to take a protective approach to adapting to change. But what if colleges' and universities' collective expertise in a particular program area were harnessed toward meeting a
That's essentially the thinking behind an unusual cross-institution partnership now working to improve the preparation of
middle and high school math teachers for the changes wrought
by the Common Core State Standards for mathematics.
The Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, or mtep, a
project of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, is bringing together 38 teams of university and community college faculty and K-12 educators from across the states.
Starting last year, the teams began developing and testing
different initiatives to reform teacher preparation in math,
working out kinks across different types of institutions, and
laying out plans to support recommended changes broadly in
The project embraces the emerging study of "improvement science"-how organizations and systems get better over
time. And it builds on the notion in that field that
contextual variation-in mtep's case, state
teacher-prep curricular requirements,
faculty structure, size, and geographic
location-should be embraced for the
insights it can provide into how, and
under what conditions, specific reforms
Testing a variety of models
will flourish or fail.
for giving teachers hands-on
"By having a group doing this topractice in their internships.
gether, we can try these approaches
across more than one context, do a little
more careful data collection to see if
this is just a change that feels better, or
whether it's a genuine improvement," said W.
Gary Martin, a professor of mathematics education
at Auburn University, in Alabama, and a co-director of
Developing specialized math and
statistics courses for secondarymathematics teachers that couple
subject-matter knowledge with
connections to pedagogy.
Observers have tended to focus on the changes to
elementary-level math brought on by the common core,
but the standards pose unique challenges in secondary mathematics, too. For one, they envision an integrated sequence of high school math courses
as an alternative to the familiar Algebra
1-geometry-Algebra 2 sequence.
And there are additional, context-specific challenges where
teacher preparation is conInstilling Active Learning
cerned. Secondary math is
one of the harder licensing
Ensuring that freshman and sophomore
Developing valid and reliable
fields in which to attract
math courses include opportunities
enough strong teacher-canto engage in the Standards for
candidates' grasp of the
didates, with current data
Mathematical Practice (including
specialized knowledge needed
suggesting that one in six secmodeling with math, reasoning abstractly
for secondary-math teaching.
ondary schools in the United
and quantitatively, and constructing
States reports having difficulmathematical arguments).
ties filling faculty openings in
the subject. In school districts,
capable mentor teachers able to
guide green candidates are frequently
in short supply.
Higher education structures bring their own wrinkles, with program coursework spanning a sometimesAttracting Teacher Hopefuls
uneasy balance between content classes taught by the arts
and sciences faculty and teaching-methods courses taught
by education faculty.
techniques to attract
Faced with those complexities, the mtep participants
have organized themselves into five different actioncandidates, including from
research committees, or racs, each addressing a differunderrepresented groups.
ent facet of mathematics preparation. And, in contrast
to the spilled-molasses pace of many higher education
undertakings, they're already starting to seek answers.
This school year, rac teams are piloting a variety of approaches
in their colleges. And as certain methodologies emerge as beacons
of best practice, the racs will promote them throughout the network of participating colleges.
The teams in the rac studying clinical experiences, for instance, are trying three variations in their respective colleges
on how to give aspiring teachers more effective opportunities to
practice their skills.
In the first, two teacher-candidates are paired with one mentor teacher. In the second, one aspiring teacher and his or her
mentor plan and co-teach lessons together. Finally, a third set
of teams is crafting tasks to help candidates understand the
standards' emphasis on mathematical modeling and reasoning.
They are also testing the classroom observations and other fieldbased projects that typically precede the actual semester or year
of formal student-teaching.
"We want to know what the major outcomes are for the participating teacher-candidates, the benefits that mentors gain
from participating, and how it impacts the secondary students
in the classes as well," said Marilyn E. Strutchens, a professor of curriculum and teaching at Auburn University and a codirector of the rac.
Another rac is focused on active learning of mathematics-a
term that generally means grappling with real-world conundrums-in foundational math courses for teacher-candiates.
Again, the approaches differ across teams and institutions.
Testing New Approaches
Participants in Colorado and Nebraska are working on developing "tact-ivities" to supplement math textbooks with
hands-on problems that aim to build deeper understanding of
key concepts like functions. In its sections on college algebra,
the University of Nebraska--
-Lincoln is using lesson plans, first
developed by scholars at the University of Michigan, to ensure
that such tasks are included.
Yet another rac is wrestling with the sequence and content
of mathematics-education courses, hoping to push them closer
to the recommendations of a recent report by the Conference
Board of the Mathematical Sciences, an umbrella organization
for more than a dozen math associations. Among other things,
that report calls for prospective middle school teachers to take
specialized courses with an emphasis on what's called "mathematical knowledge for teaching."
"One of the ideas is that what you need to know in order
to teach well is different from what you need to know to be
a young engineer or economist," said Jim Lewis, a professor
of mathematics at the University of Nebraska- Lincoln, who
works with the active-learning rac. "In mathematics, you are
often trying to synthesize knowledge. As a teacher, you're trying to pull apart knowledge and understand why people have
Given differences in state coursework requirements, participants in the working group plan to craft modules of three to five
weeks in length that could be plugged into a variety of existing
courses. Some of the themes they're working on include: transformational geometry; statistics; mathematical modeling; and
So far, the Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership has
attracted considerable outside support. It has received $1 million from the Helmsley Charitable Trust and has been chosen
for study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching, a proponent of the networked approach to system improvement and an adviser to the partnership.
Having the support of the Association of Public and LandGrant Universities is another advantage.
"It really elevates awareness of the project," Auburn University's Mr. Martin said. "There is an institutional commitment
to involvement. If I get a message from the aplu, my dean and
provost care about that message."
Even so, participants say they have a high bar for success.
It isn't enough, they say, for mtep to produce better secondary
math teachers; it also has to create a fundamentally different
way of approaching math teaching across education schools.
After all, reasoned Mr. Lewis, the teacher-candidates of
today could go on to be the Ph.D.s and education professors
of tomorrow. n
Coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession is supported
by a grant from the Joyce Foundation, at www.joycefdn.org/Programs/
Education. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content
of this coverage.
Education Week - November 12, 2014 - Special Report
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