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Annual Report Overviews


Annual Report Overview

submitter: Making Mathematics Reform a Reality in Middle Schools
published: 02/02/1998
posted to site: 02/02/1998
PART I -- Annual Overview

This 3-1/2 year LSC project is intended to promote, support and study the process of school-wide mathematics reform in four suburban/rural middle schools in the Rochester (NY) area. These schools' commitment to school mathematics reform developed as a result of a prior NSF-funded teacher enhancement project (#TPE-9153812), which involved 3-5 teachers from each of these schools. This LSC project serves a total of about 50 teachers; with the goal of impacting all teachers providing math instruction in each school, these participants include special education and elementary teachers as well as certified mathematics teachers. In each school, one/two of these teachers have agreed to take on the role of "lead teacher" and receive additional training to develop capacity for this role. At each site, a mathematics teacher educator acts as "school facilitator," with the role of supporting participants' field experiences and facilitating school-wide reform efforts.

This LSC project is also enhanced by a concurrent D.D. Eisenhower higher education grant from the New York State Department of Education (#0132-97-0054). This funding supports an added teacher preparation component and professional development efforts for representatives from the larger community playing a role in mathematics education at the four schools (ex: tutors, parents, teachers from other schools in the same district, etc.).

One of the major accomplishments of the first 15 months of the project (June 96--August 97) has been the design and implementation of a variety of complementary professional development initiatives. These initiatives include: (a) an Introductory Summer Institute (40 hours) intended to introduce all new participants to an inquiry approach to teaching mathematics; (b) seven "Mini-series" (10 hours each) focusing on the teaching of specific math topics, offered over the course of the school year; (c) a few experimental "Study groups" (5-10 hours each), each involving a small group of teachers in planning innovative instructional units based on exemplary instructional materials; (d) a second Advanced Summer Institute (45 hours) focusing on rethinking the teaching of algebra; (e/f/g) various "ad-hoc" professional development designed to respond to specific needs at the project, school and/or individual level; (h) a Leadership Seminar (85 hours) involving all lead teachers and school facilitators. Some of these initiatives (a-d) include follow-up field experiences involving the implementation of exemplary instructional materials (i.e., "illustrative inquiry units" created as the result of the previous teacher enhancement project, and/or units from the Connected Mathematics or Math in Context curriculum series).

It is important to note that of the initiatives listed above only (a), (d), (e) and (f) were part of the original design of the project as articulated in our proposal to NSF. The other professional development initiatives were developed in response to participants' needs as they emerged over the course of the first six months of the project.

The extent of teachers' participation in the project was close to our target, and in some cases even exceeded expectations. We were able to recruit and retain only 6 of the desired 8 lead teachers; however, each of these teachers received an average of 183 hours of professional development, besides engaging in many leadership activities over the course of the year. The other "potentially elegible teachers" received an average of 60 hours of professional development (for an overall average of 73 hours of professional development per "potentially elegible teacher" in the project). In three of the participating schools, all but one/two of the potentially elegible teachers have officially joined the project by attending its 40-hour Introductory Summer Institute; 1/3 of the fourth school, however, still need to complete this requirement. All but three of the classroom teachers who participated in a Summer Institute in 1996 implemented some innovative instruction in their classes, for 10%-50% of the school year in at least one of their courses. In most cases, teachers worked in pairs or small groups to develop these experiences, and benefited from the support of the school facilitator and/or a lead teacher. Working with a student teacher also provided a few participating teachers with additional opportunities for attempting instructional innovation.

Systemic efforts differed considerably across the four schools, due to their unique histories and circumstances. In three of the four schools, however, lead teachers and school facilitators spent considerable effort "revitalizing" math department meetings and making the project more "visible" within their school and district, as a way to begin to develop a different "vision" for mathematics instruction. In two of the four schools (those with a longer history of involvement in math reform), a culture of collaborative practice is also beginning to develop as a result of teachers' collaboration in designing innovative instruction to fulfill their field experience expectations. In one of these schools some steps have also been taken towards making significant long-term curriculum revisions. Lead teachers and school facilitators at each site also had to grapple with various "systemic" issues as they dealt with preparing for the new State-wide assessments New York State expected to be put in place starting in 1999, securing the administrative support and funds necessary to sustain the project, understanding existing power and authority structures within their schools and districts, hiring practices and mentoring of new teachers. Throughout these experiences, lead teachers at three of the four sites played a key role.

Despite the progress made over this first year of the project, several obstacles have also been experienced. The greatest one has to do with the realization that NSF and school funds were grossly insufficient to cover the amount of time required of participants, lead teachers and school facilitators to support real changes in classroom and school practices; the results achieved were possible only because of the considerable time volunteered by most participants and project staff, which is unfortunately unsustainable over the long haul and has already caused feelings of overwhelmedness and frustration. Support from the school and district administration also fell short of expectations in all but one of the four schools, causing unexpected problems with respect to not only following up on school commitments (especially with respect to recruiting "reluctant" participants), but also to participants' morale. A union grievance initiated by a "reluctant" teacher in one of the four schools also had very negative consequences, as it caused all project activities in that school to stop for a period of three months while the issue was resolved, and finally led to the withdrawal of a few of the original participants from the project as well as a loss of momentum and key professional development opportunities for all others.