WMU News

Local teachers get federal funds for mathematics reform

Sept. 11, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Teachers at 15 Southwest Michigan high schools and their feeder middle schools will get federal assistance to implement a nationally recognized curriculum designed to revitalize the way students learn and use mathematics.

More than 150 teachers in targeted schools from Albion to Sparta will each spend a minimum of 130 hours over the next three years taking part in an intense cycle of professional development activities to help them make a smooth transition to the new curriculum.

The National Science Foundation has awarded $404,000 to mathematics education experts at Western Michigan University to administer the project, which is called Renewing Mathematics Teaching through Curriculum. A collaborative effort by teachers, administrators and University faculty, the project also will focus on outreach to parents and community members as well as links to the local business community. The project is designed to ensure that the schools are successful as they implement the Core-Plus Mathematics Project curriculum, which also was developed at WMU with NSF funding.

Dr. Laura R. Van Zoest, WMU assistant professor of mathematics and statistics, co-directs the new RMTC effort for teachers with Beth E. Ritsema, professional development coordinator for the Core-Plus Mathematics Project. Van Zoest says it will take community-wide support for the new curriculum to be successfully implemented. The payoff, she notes, is one that will benefit the whole community as well -- students who are better prepared to face the work and academic world that awaits them after high school.

"The world requires a high level of sophistication in mathematics," she says. "Those without that level of sophistication won't be able to fully participate in society."

To help involve the community, RMTC organizers are planning parent awareness meetings and school board presentations as well as proposals to local businesses to form partnerships with school mathematics classrooms. Opportunities for businesses to become involved will range from long-term "adopt a class" arrangements to classroom visits or financial support for purchasing the technology that the new curriculum utilizes.

The Core-Plus curriculum has been in development at WMU since 1992. It was written by WMU mathematics educators in collaboration with development teams at five other universities. The Core-Plus curriculum consists of a three-year program for all students and a fourth-year course that continues the preparation of students for college, including those who may become professional users of mathematics. The curriculum features four strands: algebra and functions; geometry and trigonometry; statistics and probability; and discrete mathematics. In addition to learning important mathematics, students increase their abilities to solve problems and to think and communicate mathematically.

The curriculum was tested in 36 school districts in Michigan and 10 other states before becoming commercially available for the first time last year under the title "Contemporary Mathematics in Context." The first two years of the curriculum materials are now being used in schools around the nation, the third-year materials are being prepared for publication by Everyday Learning Corp. of Chicago and the fourth-year course is now being written. Schools involved in the new collaborative began using the curriculum as pilot test sites or adopted the curriculum as soon as it became available last year.

"What this project is all about is going from having just a few teachers doing pilot work on the curriculum to putting these new tools into the hands of everyone," Van Zoest says. "This professional development project is for all teachers, just as the curriculum is for all students."

Designed for all high school mathematics teachers in the participating schools as well as some middle school and special education teachers, the program already is under way. More than 80 teachers took part this summer in intensive five-day summer workshops at WMU. During the school year, teachers will attend regular meetings, work with mentors and observe each other's classroom instruction.

Van Zoest points out that the workshop and school-year activities give teachers a jump-start in making the transition to the new curriculum as smooth as possible. For effective implementation, teachers need a broader and deeper understanding of mathematics than they have ever needed before as well as expertise in a wide variety of teaching techniques. Many teachers already involved in teaching the Core-Plus curriculum, Van Zoest says, call the transition the hardest, but most rewarding, thing they have ever done.

The NSF funding covers workshop expenses for each of the teachers and also provides a stipend that averages $1,600 per teacher over the three-year grant project.

"The NSF has made a significant financial commitment to supplement each district's efforts to make sure teachers have every opportunity to make a smooth transition to teaching the mathematics of the future," Van Zoest says. "A smooth transition means that students and teachers alike will be able to focus their energies on the mathematics skills they will need for full participation in their future work and academic lives."

Participating schools: The following schools are part of the Renewing Mathematics Teaching Through Curriculum project outlined above:

Albion High School

Battle Creek Mathematics and Science Center

Battle Creek Central High School

Harper Creek High School, Battle Creek

Lakeview High School, Battle Creek

Fremont High School

Holland Christian High School

Black River High School, Holland

Kalamazoo Central High School

Loy Norrix High School, Kalamazoo

Kent City High School

Orchard View High School, Muskegon

Portage Central High School

Portage Northern High School

Sparta High School

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