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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
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Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

NSF grant to IU School of Education to help math and science teachers right at the start

Project is focused on pre-service elementary teachers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 29, 2007

EDITORS: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/news/tabid/5663/Default.aspx. Look for the story headline under "Podcasts." A transcript of these sound bites can be read below.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The National Science Foundation is granting $1.5 million to the Indiana University School of Education for a program intended to prepare teachers for the classroom and also to determine how well they are prepared to teach.

The NSF awarded the money for a five-year project called "Iterative Model Building: A Program for Training Quality Teachers and Measuring Teacher Quality." The study will put IU students who are working toward becoming elementary teachers under the microscope. Researchers will follow three cohorts of students through their studies in mathematics and science methods classes, into student teaching, and during their first full-time teaching jobs. The data will focus on the success of these teachers after they experience two innovations in their mathematics and science methods courses -- teaching experiments and lesson study groups.

Enrique Galindo, associate professor of mathematics education and research leader, said this study will address issues regarding strategies to best prepare teachers.

"We're going to be looking at the quality of the lesson plans they produce," Galindo said. "We're going to be looking at the type of classroom atmosphere and classroom discourse that they can engage their students in. We're going to try to see if we can measure the effects of our innovations."

Galindo said the study is unique because it focuses on teachers who haven't started their careers. He said many studies focus on effectiveness of teachers who are already in the classroom.

"They'll have a good understanding, probably a better understanding than the average teacher, of how students learn," said Valarie Akerson, associate professor of science education. "And how they (teachers) can get them to the place they want them."

Galindo said the study will help new teachers go into the classroom with more than just a hunch that a new idea will be successful. "We're trying to go beyond that and try to gather evidence that this in fact works," he said.

Galindo, Akerson and Anderson Norton, mathematics education assistant professor, submitted the proposal earlier this year. In the proposal, the researchers state their main goal is to improve professional development for future elementary math and science teachers, which would in turn improve student learning.

The study comes at a critical time for schools. As the importance of math and science skills grows, school corporations are struggling to find certified teachers as required by law. A recent New York Times article reported some schools had no certified math teachers, while the nation's largest school system in New York offered math and science teachers an incentive of a $5,000 down payment on a home. High turnover rates are affecting teacher recruiting across the country.

"Hopefully through the research associated with the process, we're going to be able to show that our teachers are going to be able to impact the students," Akerson said. "And they'll feel confident enough that they won't leave the profession."

Sound bite transcripts from the IU School of Education:

Galindo describes how the researchers will follow up pre-service teachers after following their studies and their student teaching:
"We'll go and visit with them during their first year as teachers. We're going to be looking at the quality of the lesson plans they produce. We're going to be looking at the type of classroom atmosphere and classroom discourse that they can engage their students in. We're going to try to see if we can measure the effects of our innovations."

Galindo says this study could help take some guesswork out of trying new things in teaching math and science:
"As we introduce innovations, many times they are introduced just with the feeling that 'Oh, this is a good idea.' We're trying to go beyond that and try to gather evidence that this in fact works. We have these indicators that tell us that this works."

Akerson says the study may have some impact on the shortage of math and science teachers because it can prove what their teaching does:
"Hopefully through the research associated with the process, we're going to be able to show that our teachers are going to be able to impact the students, and also feel confident enough that they won't leave the profession. And so by being intrigued and by researching their own students' understanding, it's more interesting to them than just going in and just teaching a lesson. It's more 'wow, what are my students getting out of this?' and 'how can I help them better.'"

A better grasp of impact can help particularly at the elementary level, Akerson says:
"They'll have a good understanding, probably a better understanding than the average teacher, that's the hope, of how students learn and how they (teachers) can get them to the place they want them. Hopefully that will be intrinsically motivating enough to help with retention in the field as well. This project focuses on elementary, where a lot of elementary teachers tend to avoid math and science. So this hopefully will also show that kids can learn these subjects, and they are interesting subjects to teach because of how you can see the learning process."