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published: 11/30/2001
posted to site: 11/30/2001

2000-2001 Annual Report

Project Summary

    Project Director:
  • Samantha Tate, Visalia Unified School District
  • Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin, California State University, Fresno
  • Dr. Richard Thiessen, Fresno Pacific University
  • Carlyn Lambert, Visalia Unified School District
Strategies for Teacher Excellence Promoting Student Success (STEPSS) is a five-year, $3.8 million project that received initial funding in August, 1998. STEPSS is designed to strengthen and enhance the mathematics content knowledge and instructional expertise of approximately 900 K-6 teachers, administrators, and preservice teachers in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD). The district is located in the heart of California's agriculturally-rich San Joaquin Valley and serves 25,000 ethnically- and linguistically-diverse students in grades K-12. California State University, Fresno (CSUF) and Fresno Pacific University (FPU) are the major graduate universities in the region and are active partners in the STEPSS project. Faculty members from each campus coordinate the STEPSS master's cohorts and deliver mathematics content classes for the Project participants. The Project Director, Samantha Tate, coordinates grant activities within the District and oversees six full-time teachers on special assignment who serve as grade-level Math Coaches for the Project (three primary and three upper-grades).

Project Goals - The STEPSS Project consists of a number of elements, carefully designed and interwoven to produce systemic, long-term change at each school site and to achieve the project's major goals: (a) to increase and support elementary teachers' knowledge and confidence in mathematical content, learning theory, assessment techniques, and instructional strategies; (b) to develop administrators and teachers to serve as mathematics curricular leaders and peer coaches at their respective sites, and (c) to increase the mathematics achievement of all of the district's students.

Teacher Institute - Each year, the entire faculty from four to five K-6 schools participate in STEPSS-related experiences. This model (as opposed to a cross-district, grade-level-span model) is quite effective in developing a community of learners within each school. The initial experience in STEPSS is an intensive one-week Institute, 'Teaching and Assessing for Understanding,' led by Kathy Richardson and Deborah Kitchens of Mathematical Perspectives. During the Institute (which is held at least twice a year to accommodate various year-round teaching schedules), teachers learn ways to search for evidence that each student is effectively developing the capacity for independent mathematical thinking. Attention is given to creating a learning environment that allows teachers to assess individual children and meet the range of needs in their classrooms. This Institute is credited with challenging and changing teachers' perceptions of the nature of mathematics and what it means to be an effective teacher of mathematics. During 1998-1999, 229 preservice teachers, administrators, and teachers from nine schools participated in one of these Institutes. During 1999-2000, four new schools were added to the Project. That year, a total of 118 preservice teachers, teachers, and site administrators participated in the Teacher Institutes. Four new schools were added to the project during 2000-2001, bringing the total number of Project schools to eighteen. A total of 213 preservice teachers, teachers, and site administrators participated in the Teacher Institutes this year.

Teacher Leader Institute - In addition to the Teacher Institute, a week-long "Institute for Teacher Leaders in Mathematics" is provided for administrators and for teachers desiring a greater leadership role at their school site. The institute provides an in-depth look into the theory of how children learn mathematics, effective instructional practices, and ways to provide peer support. The Teacher Leaders are looked upon as key mathematics resource teachers by others at their school site and supplement the support provided by the STEPSS Coaches.

Each year, the Project modifies and enhances the format of the Leadership Institute for the next cohort of leaders based on feedback from the current teacher leaders. This year, the five-day Teacher Leadership Institute was expanded to seven days--three days in early fall for the initial Leadership Institute, followed by two days in January and another two days in May. This format allows leaders to have year-long support from Kathy Richardson.

Cognitive Peer Coaching - Another important element of the STEPSS training is a seven-hour workshop in Cognitive Peer Coaching (CPC), provided by Bill Baker of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior. Teachers learn how to assist a partner in critically assessing and reassessing his or her lessons. 'Planning' and 'reflective' conversations are discussed and practiced during the CPC sessions.

Behind the Glass - The Cognitive Peer Coaching Training is followed by a half-day 'Behind the Glass' (BG) demonstration and a Practicum experience (two half-days). The BG classroom is a large room that has been divided into an observation room and a classroom by a wall containing a one-way window. A sound system allows observers to hear easily what is being said in the classroom. During the BG demonstration, a Math Coach provides facilitation of a math lesson for the teachers in the observation room while the lesson is taught in the classroom by another Math Coach. Teachers are free to ask questions or dialogue with the Coach while the lesson is in progress. (Preservice elementary teachers from CSUF and FPU also participate in a BG experiences as part of their math methods classes.) At the conclusion of the demonstration, the two Math Coaches model a 'reflective' conversation about the lesson. The teachers are then allowed time for collaboration on a lesson that one will present the next day in the Practicum.

Practicum - During the Practicum, peer partners take turns observing and coaching each other. Following a lesson, the observing teacher leads a reflective conversation with the teacher who taught the lesson. The following day, the partners switch roles and repeat the process. The teachers are provided approximately two hours each day for collaboration and planning for future mathematics lessons. The Math Coaches are available for support as needed during these two days.

University Courses/Workshops - Each teacher in the STEPSS program is required to participate in at least 30 hours of mathematics content courses, which many teachers satisfy by attending two series of five monthly half-day workshops offered by mathematics educators from the partnership universities. This requirement is waived for teachers who elect to pursue a master's degree with an emphasis in elementary mathematics education from either Fresno Pacific University or California State University, Fresno. During the first year of the grant, over 80 teachers enrolled in one of these master's programs, their tuition and fees supported in part by grant monies. A second cadre of 74 master's students is currently progressing through a master's program at one of the two universities.

On-site Coaching - During the year following a school's initial STEPSS experience, the four Math Coaches make monthly visits to the school for two days of coaching, support, collaborative lesson planning, and/or demonstration lessons. Two of the Coaches support grades K-2 teachers and two support grades 3-6 teachers. The first day, each Coach brings a substitute teacher with a prepared math lesson who provides thirty minutes of release time for each teacher so they can hold an individual planning session with their respective Coach. The Coach uses the planning map from cognitive coaching to clarify a teacher's needs. The support provided to the teachers during the second day is based on the needs identified during the first day coaching session. Support can take many forms but typically is modeling of teaching strategies, performing individual student assessment, and side-by-side teaching and assessing with the teacher. During subsequent years, Coaches visit school sites once a month, and the site Teacher Leaders assume more responsibility for site leadership and support. There are six Math Coaches currently serving STEPSS teachers at their school sites. Three coaches support K-2 teachers and three support the grades 3-6 teachers.

Ongoing Support - Opportunities are also provided during the year for teachers to visit any of the dozen Demonstration Classrooms (classes of Teacher Leaders who invite observers to drop in and observe lessons). In addition, teachers are invited to participate in a variety of after-school mini-institutes on topics ranging from developing number concepts to effective assessment strategies. Many schools hold Family Math Night events and host mini-workshops with math consultants.

During April, 1999, over 40 teachers attended the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' annual conference in San Francisco, supported by Eisenhower funds. A team of 14 STEPSS Project PIs, Coaches, Teacher Leaders, and principals gave a presentation on the Project at the California Mathematics Council's Palm Springs Conference in November, 1999. A half-day STEPSS workshop was presented at the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics' conference held in Chicago during April 2000. In January 2001, then-Project Director Darryl Medders, Co-PI Carol Fry Bohin, and one of Dr. Bohlin's graduate students, Judy Russ, gave a presentation on STEPSS at the Association of Mathematics Teachers Educators (AMTE) annual conference, held in Orange County, California. Two STEPSS coaches (Goebel and Hight) and the Project Director Samantha Tate had their proposal accepted to speak at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' 2002 conference in Las Vegas (topic: "Building Sense with Numbers"). Project Co-PI, Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin, will moderate a session on NSF Local Systemic Change (LSC) projects during the 2002 NCTM conference.

To facilitate communication and information distribution, the Project is developing a new Web site, and Co-PI Bohlin maintains an online, COMET, that keeps STEPSS staff and interested teachers on the cutting edge of news, opportunities, and information related to mathematics education (see

The sections below offer more details about the professional development opportunities provided by STEPSS for teachers and administrators from every elementary school in Visalia Unified School District over the 5-year period of the grant.

To help the reader gain an overview of the Project, the outline below summarizes the "STEPSS Experience" of a typical school.

    Year 1:
    All Teachers
  • 'Teaching and Assessing for Understanding' workshop with Kathy Richardson or Deborah Kitchens (5 days)
  • Two days of Cognitive Coaching Training with Bill Baker
  • Behind the Glass and Cognitive Coaching Observation; Collaborative planning for lesson to be taught the next day
  • Two half-day Practicum experience: One member of pair teaches, the other observes and uses cognitive peer coaching techniques; the next day, the process is reversed
  • Two days of Coaching per month (half-hour conversation with coach on the first day to identify teachers' needs; coach support for teacher occurs during the second day (model lessons, student assessment, team teaching/assessing)
  • Monthly half-day Math Content Classes 5-6 times a year or participation in master's classes
  • One day of grade-level conversations with Kathy Richardson (during one week in January, Kathy meets with K-2 teachers on Monday night; with Gr. 3-4 teachers on Tuesday night; and with Gr. 5-6 teachers on Wednesday night)
  • Periodic observations of teachers who teach in Lab Classrooms during off-track time or sub-covered time (There are 14 of these K-6 demonstration classrooms throughout the district. This is a recently-added feature of the program-added at the request of participating teachers who wanted the chance to see the strategies in action in classes with skilled teacher.)
  • Leadership and participation in Family Math Nights, book chats, etc.

    Additional Training for Grade-level Teacher Leaders and Administrators

  • 'Institute for Teacher Leaders in Mathematics K-6' with Kathy Richardson or Deborah Kitchens (5 days)
  • Kathy meets with TLs for 2 days during January (mid-year) (Kathy meets with coaches for 2 days as well.)

    Years 2+
    All Teachers
  • One day of coaching support per month (*2000/2001--Changed to two days of coaching support per month)
  • Continuation of mathematics content classes and support from district to attend mathematics conferences/workshops
  • Principals are encouraged to give TLs release time to peer coach or model a lesson for a colleague.
  • Leadership and participation in Family Math Nights, book chats, etc.

    Year 3
    At the end of year two, the Cohort I schools expressed the need for continued support from the STEPSS team. The original plan was to release Cohort schools in their third year with support from the team as needed. Cohort I schools requested continued STEPSS support during their third year to assist in further developing their site leadership team. The project has scheduled six days of formal support for Cohort I schools plus support at any time that STEPSS coaches are available. The project will continue to provide scheduled support of Cohort schools during their third year in the Project.

Mathematics Content Workshops

All STEPSS teachers who are not enrolled in a master's program must attend five half-day math content classes that are held approximately once a month as part of the required 100+ hours of professional development. When the workshops are delivered after school or on weekends, teachers receive a $50 stipend. All courses are delivered by faculty from either Fresno Pacific University or California State University, Fresno.

Sample content course titles include the following:

  • Elementary Arithmetic From an Advanced Viewpoint
  • Pattern Searching in Geometry
  • Fraction and Decimal Workshop
  • Geometry and Measurement
  • Just for the Fun of It-Puzzles and Problem Solving in Recreational Mathematics
  • Number Sense
  • Number Concepts/Operations

Master's Degree Courses

STEPSS has provided a significant level of financial support for over 100 teachers desiring a master's degree with K-6 mathematics as their area of focus. The two participating campuses are California State University, Fresno and Fresno Pacific University. The courses taken by students at each campus provide them with numerous opportunities to strengthen their understanding of mathematics content and pedagogy and to develop their research and leadership skills in the area of mathematics education. The University-based Project Co-PIs, Dr. Carol Fry Bohlin and Dr. Richard Thiessen, serve as coordinators of the STEPSS master's cohorts at their respective campuses-California State University, Fresno and Fresno Pacific University. The following are some of the courses that have been taken by the master's students at each campus between Fall Semester, 1998, and Fall Semester, 2001:

  • California State University, Fresno (Master of Arts in Education: Curriculum and Instruction Emphasis - K-6 Mathematics Focus)

    Mathematics Education in the Primary Grades -This course explores the mathematics content and methods appropriate for grades K-3, including methods for assessing and building on children's natural strategies for problem solving, developing mathematical communication skills, and strengthening connections between conceptual and procedural knowledge.

    Statistics for K-8 Teachers -Students learn the purposes and applications of descriptive and inferential statistics (e.g., measures of central tendency and variation, correlation, regression, t-tests, ANOVA, chi-square) and develop the skills to present these concepts to K-8 students.

    Problem Solving for K-8 Teachers -A cornucopia of classic problems, new problems, and problem solving strategies that serve to enhance the mathematical skills and reasoning abilities for elementary school teachers.

    Infusing Technology in the Elementary School Curriculum -Identification and evaluation of computers, instructional video, laser disc, digital cameras, and telecommunications for developing teaching materials and strategies appropriate for the mathematics classroom.

    Curriculum Development and Evaluation -This course presents the theory and practice of curriculum development, evaluation and revision, especially as it relates to mathematics education.

    Instructional Development and Evaluation -This course focuses on effective instructional models and examines in depth the TIMSS findings, CGI models, and theory-based models of mathematics instruction.

    Seminar in Advanced Educational Psychology -This is a seminar on the psychological foundation of education, focusing on the nature and characteristics of development and learning processes.

    Research in Education -This is a course on research methodology, including identification of research problems, use of library and internet resources, data gathering and processing, conducting research, and writing a research report (lays groundwork for the thesis or project).

    Current Issues and Trends in Mathematics Education -This course provides students with a solid base of knowledge for the understanding and analysis of national and statewide issues related to mathematics curriculum, instruction, and assessment. [This course was developed especially for the NSF-sponsored master's cohort at Fresno State and was approved at the university level in Fall 2000 for inclusion in the university catalog.]

    Project or Thesis -Independent, creative scholarly work on a significant issue. Theses must include a significant research component. Projects and theses are all 5-chapter volumes.

  • Fresno Pacific University (Master of Arts in Education with a K-6 Mathematics Emphasis)

    Arithmetic of the Rational Numbers -Using manipulatives and problem-solving strategies within a context, this course develops the underlying concepts and structure of the natural numbers, integers, and rational numbers.

    Informal Geometry -Beginning with the geometric gifts of Froebel, this course explores the concepts and relationships of elementary geometry.

    Math Perspectives -A math content course that integrates number, geometry, and data sense through problem solving.

    Concepts of Algebra -This course provides a bridge between arithmetic to algebra. Looking forward from arithmetic to algebra and backward from algebra to arithmetic, students find themselves engaged in algebraic thinking and acquisition of the language of algebra.

    Technology in Math Education -This course explores ways to use technology to enhance the teaching of mathematics in the elementary school.

    Festival of Mathematics -This is a one-week institute setting with grade level strands in which teachers explore innovative ways to teach mathematics in the elementary classroom.

    Integration of Mathematics and Science: Math Connections - This course focuses on the integration of math and science primarily from the content of mathematics. Science investigations provide the arena for the application of some of the big ideas of elementary mathematics.