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K-5 PRIME Mathematics Project

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

K-5 PRIME Mathematics Project:
2001 Annual Report

PI: Carol Thornton
Illinois State University

Co-PI: Jeffrey Barrett
Illinois State University

November 9, 2001

PRIME is a collaborative effort involving Illinois State University's Mathematics Education faculty and all 337 K-5 classroom mathematics teachers, their administrators, parents, and community partners in Peoria District 150, a $1.5 million project that received initial funding in March, 2000. As a local systemic change effort the project responds to teacher needs and their request for professional support in phasing in Investigations in Number, Data and Space. The teacher enhancement efforts of the PRIME Project are helping to fill a 20-year void in systemic professional development in mathematics teaching and is expected to impact performance of students on state math assessments, which has never risen above state averages.

Major project goals:

  • Improve teachers' mathematical content knowledge, including knowledge of the technology used in Investigations.
  • Extend teachers' understanding of the pedagogy underlying effective implementation of the Investigations program.
  • Mentor teachers by promoting their reflective analysis of mathematics teaching and learning.
  • Foster the development of teacher leaders and communities of learners within and across schools.
  • Encourage and support teachers' outreach efforts to communicate with families and the broader community about ways of improving mathematics teaching and learning.
Long-term goals include:
  • Improving student achievement in mathematics through an emphasis on problem solving, reasoning, and numbers sense and on the comprehensive development of conceptual understanding of mathematics;
  • Fostering better grade-to-grade K-5 program coordination leading to more successful entry into middle school mathematics; and
  • Developing structures necessary to sustain and extend the momentum of the PRIME Project beyond funding by working with individual schools to create a mechanism to insure continued growth. This effort complements the district's coordinated follow-through program.
ANNUAL OVERVIEW, 2001 (Year Two Project Activities):

Major project activities, as outlined in our original proposal, were a natural extension of Year One activities. We held grade-level seminars in February and in March involving all 337 Project teachers. In June, senior staff collaborated to host a special session for principals. Later during June, 332 teachers participated in one of two week-long PRIME sessions focused on Developing Number and Operation Sense from the standpoints of both mathematics content and mathematical pedagogy. Ideas developed during these sessions were reinforced during August back-to-school grade-level seminars. Between mid September and mid October, on-site K-3 and Grade 4-5 meetings were held to reflect on students' performance as measured by state-level mathematics exams given the prior spring. A targeted goal of these sessions was to identify weak areas and devise strategies for working as a team to improve student performance in areas of need. Two grade-level seminars, to focus on assessment as requested by principals, are scheduled for fall semester.

Throughout the year, Project staff have provided on-going site support. Each semester, each teacher is visited at least 3 times. Coordinating teachers in each school met as a group 2 times during spring semester. In May we submitted a request for supplemental funding to sponsor a Mathematics Leadership Institute aimed at developing a cohort of peers capable of coaching other teachers in their building. The original proposal stopped short of providing specific leadership development and this has been determined by us as critical for supporting project initiatives now and for sustainability beyond funding. Pending funding, staff associate Jo Olson (Presidential Award winning middle school teacher with prior staff development experience), has coordinated initial efforts. Her work, begun May 10, included a week-long session in August and monthly dinner meetings this fall.

The PRIME Advisory Board meets with district and university staff on November 9. The staff has supported the Core Evaluation activities required by Horizons.

Year Two Project Findings (Fall, 2001):

Math scores of Peoria's Grade 3 and Grade 5 students on the annual state mathematics assessment increased after the first year of PRIME. The Gr. 3 increase in PRIME math ISAT scores (10% above last year's scores) doubled the average state increase (at 5 %). Measured one year after the start of our project, 65% of Grade 3 students (including special education students) met or exceeded state standards, compared with 55% performance during Spring, 2000. For the first time in Peoria's history, Grade 5 had more students above than below the state average, with 52% of these students (including special education students) meeting or exceeding state standards. At both grades 3 and 5, students generally did better on mathematics than on either reading or writing assessments. The district has attributed most of the credit for this increase in math performance to the PRIME project.

As we begin our second year, we have considered information from several sources to report: from on-site visits, formal ratings and evaluations from seminar sessions and case studies. Compared to Year One, teachers generally are more firmly committed to the spirit and ideas in the Investigations modules. Teachers have moved from a 'willingness to try' to more conscientious efforts for 'organizing and implementing these ideas in my classroom.' 5th grade teachers, for example, initially saw no reason for questioning the adequacy of the standard multiplication algorithm. After the sessions this past summer teachers have welcomed the Investigations approach for developing number sense and mathematical understanding as a base for teaching multi-digit multiplication. This attitude is paralleled among teachers at other grade levels. While teachers are beginning to succeed in their efforts to set better tasks such as those modeled in the Investigations curriculum and to integrate more and better questions into their instruction, they don't always know how to build on student thinking.

We have carried out two formal research studies with project teachers. The first is a study comparing two different types of beginning teachers as they implemented a reform-based curriculum. In this study we have identified two different profiles for novice teachers working in our urban setting. Our study of younger vs older recent graduates of teacher ed programs confirms existing accounts that younger novice teachers are flexible to a fault. In our case study, we have found that the more mature novice teacher holds beliefs about traditional mathematics teaching more strongly. Our interventions have had to be very different with these two types of teachers. An older novice teacher responded much more positively to being asked to describe the thinking of her students. In our intervention program such an approach proved effective in shifting dialog to the different ways students are thinking about the mathematics. This provided a natural pathway to ways of implementing an innovative curriculum (Investigations) since this curriculum focuses directly on student thinking about mathematics. We are in the process of writing this report for journal submission.

The second research investigation is a case-study that analyzes constraints affecting an experienced teachers' implementation of our reform-based curriculum. This research report is available in draft form only at this time.