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Last modified: Thursday, May 20, 2010

Successful IU program helping Greene County, Ind., math teachers leads to new award

May 20, 2010

As two-year project ends, funding secured for three more

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Indiana Department of Education is providing more than $1 million over the next three years to continue the Greene County Math Advancement Partnership Project (Greene MAPP).

Greene MAPP

Tara Sparks (left), first-grade teacher at Eastern Greene Elementary School, and Kathy Neill, first-grade teacher at Bloomfield Elementary School, demonstrate a math teaching technique they've learned using large playing cards.

The project, a collaboration of the Indiana University School of Education, the IU Department of Mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences and five school corporations in Greene County, Ind., is concluding an original two-year grant, which focused on helping kindergarten through sixth-grade teachers learn new techniques for teaching math concepts. The new grant of $1,103,548 will extend the program to teachers in grades four through eight.

"We're going to be continuing the strand on fostering algebraic thinking that we have in the current grant," said Enrique Galindo, associate professor of mathematics education and the project's director of the academic team. He said the new grant will also extend the scope of teaching math concepts for middle-grade teachers. "We are going to be working on integrating technology as a tool for learning mathematics," he said. "We're also going to be working on project-based learning. The new grant also has partnerships with engineers and scientists, so we're trying to bring real life to the math classroom."

"This new grant is the result of the collaborative effort of all five school corporations in the county, a collaborative effort that took shape in 2004," said Shirley Byrer, co-director of the Greene County Grant and Professional Development Consortium.

"I am thrilled that we have the opportunity to continue the positive work that has been started with Greene MAPP," said Sophie Haywood, also co-director of the consortium. "The community partnerships that are new to this grant will play an important role in getting students engaged and excited about math."

The project extension allows IU faculty to build on the results they've seen with Greene County teachers through monthly meetings and daily interactions with a roaming "math coach." Kevin Pilgrim, associate professor in the IU Department of Mathematics, said the breakthroughs came over time, noting how he and Signe Kastberg, math education professor and associate dean of academic affairs for the IU School of Education at IUPUI, would try to enable teachers to discover the new methods themselves.

"They would listen to each other and Signe would point to someone across the classroom and say, 'Hey did you understand what he said or she said?' and make them explain it to each other," Pilgrim said. "Through a very gradual process, we began to realize that it was OK for adults to talk about math just for the fun of it, to learn and explore ideas."

"Teachers are now comfortable letting their students explore and construct ideas in multiple ways," said Lauren Rapacki, the project math coach. "The next grant will afford the opportunity to extend these ideas even further and to more grade levels."

The teachers themselves say they feel much better equipped to teach math effectively than before starting the program. "I expected the kids to follow along and get their little work papers and books and do it," said Kathy Neill, a first-grade teacher at Bloomfield Elementary School. "This has really changed my thinking. Now we're letting kids explore math."

During a concluding session with program participants, Neill and partner Tara Sparks, a first-grade teacher at Eastern Greene Elementary School, demonstrated how they've excited kids through games created with playing cards and dice. Both say the methods have not only empowered them as teachers but the students as learners. "The kids in my class have been taking them out at recess to play with them," Sparks said. "They don't want to put them down. They think of math as a game, not just sitting at their table writing on a piece of paper."

"I can tell they feel more empowered to actually release some control of their classroom to the students," said Gina Borgioli Yoder, clinical assistant professor in the IU School of Education at IUPUI. "Before, they had a pretty tight rein, and they felt it was their job to lead and be the authority figure on mathematics in the classroom; and what they've come to realize is that they can actually back off of that a little bit and ask questions that invite students' thinking and facilitate the dialogue. Now their role changes from being the leader of the dialogue to the facilitator."

"They see the different ways that they can actually implement the tasks and then engage their students in mathematical reasoning and thinking and solving problems in really creative ways," said Dionne Cross, assistant professor of Mathematics Education. "They're a lot more confident and they feel a lot more freedom, I think, in trying out new things and kind of stepping away from their old way of doing things."

Some of the teachers involved in the first Greene MAPP project may continue in the next three years. The team from IU begins meeting with teachers starting Aug. 9.

You can hear more from Greene County teachers and IU faculty about the project in this short video.