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Chuck Carney
School of Education

Last modified: Thursday, June 18, 2009

IU School of Education collaboration to promote project-based math learning

Two workshops taking place in Columbus

June 18, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A program developed by an Indiana University School of Education professor is the basis for a workshop on project-based learning for math teachers taking place next week and next month in Columbus, Ind. Fifty-six teachers from 11 counties will participate in Math Matters in Southeastern Indiana June 22-26, at the Columbus Signature Academy-New Tech High School. A second workshop takes place July 22-23.

The workshops are based on the Math Matters program developed by Catherine Brown, professor of mathematics education. Brown has worked throughout Indiana to help teachers find innovative ways to engage students with math.

Math Matters in Southeastern Indiana is a project of Economic Opportunities through Education by 2015, or EcO15, an initiative of business, education and community leaders to advance K-12 education in a 10-county area in southeastern Indiana. EcO15 covers Bartholomew, Dearborn, Decatur, Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ohio, Ripley, Shelby and Switzerland counties. A $38 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. funded the start of the project in 2007.

The workshops will present ways for teachers to use project-based learning -- a method which engages students in learning subject matter through work on a project. Local math teachers selected to participate will be focusing on pre-algebra, algebra 1 and 2, and geometry projects. Teachers Jackie Fischvogt, from Columbus Signature Academy-Central Middle School, and Sara Gaynor, from Columbus Signature Academy-New Tech High School, will facilitate the workshop with help from Brown and others.

The workshop will help mathematics teachers develop their understanding of project-based instruction and support the design of project-based instructional units.

"We know that students constantly wonder 'Why am I learning this math?' and ask 'When will I ever use this?"'and are turned off by mathematics they view as abstract and useless," Brown said. "Students who learn mathematics through projects grounded in workplaces in their community won't have these questions. They will see why math matters and opens life opportunities for them."

The idea for the workshops came out of a study EcO15 conducted to determine how to best meet the needs of preparing students for industry sectors in the area, including manufacturing, health care and tourism.

"Our goal is to raise all the citizens of southeastern Indiana up a level, whether that be in their education, job placement, job training or income," said Stephanie Weber, communications and outreach coordinator for EcO15. She added that the most recent statewide end-of-course assessments for Indiana's high school students revealed a dismal success rate in algebra. For the 2007-2008 school year, just 21 percent passed algebra 1. "So this workshop was developed to help engage these math teachers and help them be more creative and innovative in their approach to teaching math," she said.

Each teacher will develop at least one project to use in the upcoming school year. EcO15 coordinators will help teachers partner with local businesses to develop projects grounded in actual operational activities within those businesses. "The students are actually going to learn about real-life work experiences and learn math at the same time," Weber said.

"The ultimate goal of this workshop is to start with a select group of teachers, but continue this throughout the state of Indiana to try and improve mathematics education," Weber said.

A Math Matters Web site is under construction and will contain all the projects produced by the teachers as well as resources for any teacher wanting to develop projects. Brown said she hopes that the Web site will be a place where mathematics teachers can learn about project-based learning, share their ideas and support each other.

The site has been developed by Nancy Miller of the Buddy Project (, an organization that supports Indiana teachers and students through educational technology, and Jean Lee, an IU doctoral student in mathematics education. The Math Matters Web site is available to guests at

EcO15 facilitator Bob Abrams said the teacher-business partnership helps teachers demonstrate real-world applications to students while requiring them to develop communication and teamwork skills. He said businesses connect with schools and teachers and might even identify future employees.

"EcO15 is based upon the fundamental belief that it is the collective responsibility of educators and businesses to better prepare our students to prosper in the southeastern region of Indiana," Abrams said. "Math Matters demonstrates this core principle of the need and benefits of such collaboration."

Brown will also be taking part in an upcoming multi-disciplinary conference on project-based learning. Learning by Doing: The Project-based Learning Institute for Middle and High School Educators, sponsored by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the University of Indianapolis, the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, takes place June 29 through July 1 at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. School of Education professors Beth Berghoff and Joy Seybold are members of the planning team for the institute.