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Case Study: PRIME (Partnerships for Systemic Reform to Improve Mathematics Education

author: PRIME Mathematics Project, K-5
submitter: Partnerships for (Systemic) Reform to Improve Mathematics Education
published: 04/02/1998
posted to site: 04/02/1998

School Documentation
Mid-Year Summary Report

In September 1997, teachers who were interested in documenting mathematical issues and Project P.R.I.M.E.'s impact on their schools attended a dinner/meeting at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Two schools from the participating district, one elementary and one middle school, were represented. At this meeting, participants received information regarding the purpose for the school site portfolio project. The group reviewed the purposes and discussed the possible artifacts that they might include in their portfolios. They discussed ways to document the following issues (for example): What messages are being conveyed about the principles of the PRIME Project and the kinds of mathematics teaching being advocated? How do teachers in your school feel about the kinds of mathematics teaching and examination of equity issues that are being advocated by PRIME? How will you try to get different teachers' and different groups' (for example, different grade levels, bilingual teachers, or parents) perspectives? Teachers made plans to maintain a journal documenting mathematics education reform in their school in the upcoming year.

Following this discussion, the participants broke up into school-based teams to discuss a list of questions about mathematics and equity in their schools and how Project P.R.I.M.E. had influenced these two areas. Following are examples of questions that teachers selected from to guide their discussions: What kinds of things were happening in your school for teachers and students and parents in the area of mathematics before the PRIME Project began? What are the key strengths of mathematics instruction in this school? What are this school's primary needs with regard to mathematics instruction? What about your school is unique? How would you describe it to others? What different groups of students, parents and teachers are represented at the school? Each of the groups tape recorded their discussions. The audio recordings were then transcribed and sent to each of the teams with the purpose of including the transcript in their portfolios. The participants plan to edit the transcripts to develop a summary of how mathematics education reform and professional development are evolving during the year.

The next meeting of the school portfolio group was held in December 1997. Each group brought samples of the artifacts that they had collected thus far. Some examples of these included: photographs of mathematical activities, sample math projects that students had done, and examples of math tests given to students. These artifacts represented a range of grade levels and activities. Additionally, one group interviewed teachers regarding their feelings about recent curricular changes at their school (the adoption of the Creative Publications MathLand curriculum) and recorded their responses to the interview questions in their journals. Following each group's presentation, the members discussed other artifacts that they may collect throughout the year.

Meetings are planned for April and June 1998. June will be the final meeting of the portfolio group for this school year, and the members will have an opportunity to reflect on what they have documented regarding mathematics throughout the year. They will note the changes that occurred since their discussions in September by referring to the transcripts of their discussions from that time. They will also discuss the portfolio as a whole, and what it indicates about their school's involvement with Project P.R.I.M.E. and the impact of mathematical reform on the school. A final discussion will address needs and areas of focus for professional development and the reform process in their school in the upcoming year. These discussions will be transcribed and used as a resource in developing a final report from each school team to accompany their annotated portfolios.

Project P.R.I.M.E. Co-Directors are planning to draw on the portfolio reports in planning the third and fourth years of professional development. Their intention--and that of the teams working at each school in the first year--is for the three teams to continue documentation efforts in the third and fourth years of the project.

How and Why the Project Chose the Teams:

The P.R.I.M.E. project sought volunteer teams of teachers for the school portfolio documentation project. The assumption was that it would be best to have people involved who were interested in documenting the mathematics education reform process in their school as a whole. We did seek both an elementary and a middle school since both are involved in the LSC project.

Lessons to Share:

The role of facilitator of the process of school portfolio development seems critical, but does not seem to need to be overly directive. Calling meetings, providing resources and materials such as cameras, film, and file boxes, and facilitating communication and sharing across schools on a regular basis are key roles for the facilitator.

Teachers saw the chance to think and talk about their school as a whole with colleagues as a valuable opportunity. The tape recording and transcribing of their discussion seemed to effectively facilitate a process they had already been engaging in informally. The questions to guide discussion appeared helpful, particularly since teachers were encouraged to select the questions that seemed most relevant to them and their school setting.

Emerging Themes:

Different themes emerged for each of the two teams, since the middle school and elementary contexts are quite different. At the middle school level, the teachers have begun to document the impact of the various curricula that is currently being used in the school. In their tape recorded discussions, the teachers talked about the significance of not having a common curriculum at each of the grade levels, and about the difficulties in trying to adopt a math program which is appropriate for their particular students, many of whom are native Spanish speakers. The teachers also critically examined the support that they receive in their school from other members of the staff and administration in bringing about mathematics reform.

At the elementary school level, the team discussed some of the opportunities that have been made available to them through Project P.R.I.M.E. For example, the school has begun a series of Family Math Partnership Nights that they feel are a great success, both in reaching families and in building collaborative relationships among teachers! Another emergent theme that the team has documented is that of the curricular changes which were introduced in their mathematics program. The teachers have been particularly interested in noting its impact on their school, including different responses from primary and upper grade teachers. They have also documented the day to day math events in their school and have involved the entire school in the documentation process by passing around a camera loaded with film to teachers so that they can take pictures of the math events in their classrooms.

It has been very important to the teachers that they were able to look at their schools from an insider's perspective, and that they were not required to document a particular set of issues which may or may not be related to what is actually happening in their schools regarding mathematics and the impact of the LSC reform. The teachers expressed appreciation for what they felt was an opportunity to shape their portfolio documentation process to fit the particular context of their schools.