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NSF Awards $2.2 Million to Project Studying Community-Based Development for Math Teachers

Math Forum

September 11, 2012

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $2.2 million to a project created by the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences at Drexel University, the Math Forum @ Drexel and the College of Education at Temple University to study community-based professional development for middle and high school mathematics teachers.

The four-year project, entitled EnCoMPASS: Emerging Communities for Mathematical Practices and Assessment, uses the Math Forum’s popular Problems of the Week (PoW) as a context to help teachers develop strategies that support students’ mathematical thinking and problem solving. The program includes a focus on relevant professional development for teachers where teachers collect meaningful data about student thinking and use that data to investigate and improve both teachers’ knowledge of math and student learning.

“EnCoMPASS will encourage teachers to move beyond simply identifying wrong answers, and instead focus on what student work reveals about their understandings and misconceptions that must be addressed in order for them to succeed as math learners,” said Valerie Klein, a math educator for the Math Forum @ Drexel.

“Through EnCoMPASS, teachers will work together to create and use rubrics for assessing student problem solving. In the process, they also will learn more about mathematics, how students learn and constructing effective feedback,” said Jason Silverman, associate professor of mathematics education in the School of Education and EnCoMPASS principal investigator. “Teachers are increasingly under pressure to implement ongoing formative assessment and adjust instruction to address individual student difficulties, and this integrated and student-centered professional development can be invaluable as they attempt to provide effective, individualized instruction and feedback to their students.”

EnCoMPASS will also support the development of a sustainable online community that values teachers as professionals, is sensitive to their evolving needs and generates a large body of assessment materials and professional experiences for everyone to use.

“As a result of the collaborative efforts both developing and using these resources, teachers not only learn more mathematics, they develop deeper insight into how students learn the particular topic and how they might support their students development,” said Hope Yursa, assistant clinical professor of mathematics education in the School of Education. “Teachers who engage in these community-based activities report an increased understanding of students’ learning that permeates all of their work going forward.”

One recent change that has many math educators scrambling is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. These national standards have asserted the importance of mathematical practices – the kinds of mathematical thinking and activity that are central to doing mathematics, regardless of grade or age.

“While content standards are very detailed and articulated across the grade levels, mathematical practices are given only general descriptions with little guidance for curriculum or instruction,” Steve Weimar, director of the Math Forum @ Drexel. “EnCoMPASS is grounded in the Math Forum Problems of the Week environment, with its rich and growing archive of students’ mathematical thinking and problem solving. As such, the project will allow teachers to study actual student thinking and figure out ways to improve it and overcome learning difficulties.”
Educators from the Math Forum @ Drexel
A number of recent studies point to teacher quality as a major factor in student success. As districts across the nation struggle with tight budgets it is increasingly difficult to find the time and funding for teacher professional development. Many are turning to online professional development for both cost and effectiveness. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Education Technology Plan for 2010 featured the Math Forum as an exemplary “online learning community built around deep content expertise” that leads to “connected teaching in K-12 mathematics.”

“The EnCoMPASS project will build the Math Forum’s success as a responsive community that values teachers and provides many different leadership opportunities while bringing together mathematicians, researchers and award-winning educators who set the bar of high quality for everyone,” said Klein.

“By closely examining the interactions among teachers and students in this online community, we will be able to fine-tune the delivery of the online problem solving instruction,” said Carol Brandt, assistant professor of science education in the College of Education at Temple University. “Our goal is to develop a supportive culture in which teachers have a heightened awareness of their feedback to students and the overall improvement of mathematical assessment.”

EnCoMPASS staff also includes Wesley Shumar, professor and chair of the Department of Culture and Communication at Drexel University; and the mathematics education staff of the Math Forum @ Drexel, including Suzanne Alejandre, Annie Fetter and Max Ray.