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Teaching math teachers

Teaching math teachers

UD hosts national Mathematics Teacher Preparation Conference

As part of a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, the University of Delaware hosted the Mathematics Teacher Preparation Conference on June 6-8, welcoming mathematics teacher education faculty from 16 universities across the country.

Guided by the UD mathematics education faculty, conference participants learned how to improve their content courses for K-8 pre-service teachers so their students could teach math to children more effectively.

This conference highlighted the grant-supported research of the UD math education faculty and doctoral students, who have worked steadily over 15 years to improve the quality of the three math content courses in the School of Education’s elementary teacher education (ETE) program.

Principal investigators and conference organizers Dawn Berk, director of the Mathematical Sciences Learning Laboratory and assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and James Hiebert, Robert J. Barkley Professor in the School of Education, shared the strategies that have led to the success of the math ETE courses.

“Over time, the mathematics education faculty has developed a set of stable, carefully chosen, and realistic learning goals for our pre-service teachers,” said Berk. “We have also developed a shared, research-based curriculum that modeled the approaches that pre-service teachers should use in the classroom.”

Significantly, this curriculum centers on a limited set of mathematics topics based on their importance for children’s future success, such as operating with fractions. The faculty then committed to teaching those topics more deeply, rather than spending only a short amount of time on a wide range of math topics.

To ensure consistency across course sections, each section used the same lesson plans and teaching materials for each class session, regardless of instructor.

As a result of this instructional model, UD’s ETE students have gained deeper knowledge of mathematics topics and have developed more effective teaching strategies.

Since 2009, Berk and Hiebert, along with their faculty colleagues and doctoral students in mathematics education, have measured the teaching knowledge and skills of more than 150 ETE graduates. They have also observed the teaching of graduates who accepted teaching positions in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Their data consistently indicated that the graduates were much better prepared to teach the math topics emphasized in their three UD content courses than math topics not addressed in the courses — even up to seven years after studying them.

During June’s Mathematics Teacher Preparation conference, participants learned about the UD model. In addition to Berk and Hiebert, Amanda Jansen, associate professor in the School of Education, and Charles Hohensee, assistant professor the School of Education, presented key aspects of the model and helped participants design strategies for adopting the model at their own institutions. Topics included making decisions about course learning goals, developing a shared curriculum, and measuring the effects of course improvements on graduates’ teaching performance.

“Preparing pre‐service elementary teachers to teach mathematics can be challenging. Most have not chosen elementary school teaching as a professional career because they love math. But, they need to teach math well, often in ways different from instruction they received, in order for their students to understand math and continue to succeed,” said Hiebert. “We provided participants with key lessons we have learned and allowed participants the time to develop their own long‐term improvement plan.”

From the 70-plus conference applications they received, Berk and Hiebert accepted 26 committed participants from institutions that have not had deep resources for developing models of continuous improvement.

Participants communicated enthusiasm about the conference, emphasizing that they found UD’s research-based model helpful and that they looked forward to developing their own action plans.

Faculty and instructors from Ball State University, Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Eastern Connecticut State University, Eastern New Mexico University, Henry Ford College, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, University of Nebraska-Omaha, University of North Carolina-Wilmington, University of Northern Iowa, Wayne State University, Western Kentucky University, Western New Mexico University and Western Washington University attended the conference.