A group of 140 elementary and middle school teachers in three Arizona counties will receive professional development training under a new grant-funded project led by faculty members in the UA colleges of education and science.
Driven by the understanding that offering teachers rigorous content-specific training improves student learning and success, two University of Arizona colleges have launched an intensive math-centered professional development program.
Built and supported by mathematicians and math educators, the Southern Arizona Mathematics Initiative is a joint project of the UA's College of Education and College of Science.
And funded by a nearly $590,000 Improving Teacher Quality grant administered by the Arizona Board of Regents, the program will serve 140 elementary and middle school teachers in three Arizona counties through September 2013.
"One of our biggest needs in the state of Arizona is looking at student math achievement," said Cynthia Anhalt, co-principal investigator and co-director of the project.
"If we work with teachers, we can help them with their content knowledge and thus have stronger impact on student learning," said Anhalt, who directs the Secondary Mathematics Education Program in the College of Science.
"So, what we're ultimately trying to do is improve student learning," Anhalt said.
The UA initiative is especially timely, as Arizona is among the states across the nation to have adopted more stringent standards, namely, the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics, or CCSSM, now being implemented.
The team will utilize Common Core Toolkit Project resources, which the UA Institute for Mathematics and Education led. The web-based toolkit contains a bank of materials – such as lesson examples, training videos and essays – for math educators.
Anhalt and her fellow co-principal investigator and co-director of the initiative, mathematics educator Erin Turner, said it is evermore crucial to support low-achieving schools while leveraging community resources to improve student learning.
In particular, the focus also is on aiding teachers who are not highly specialized in mathematics.
Such is the focus of the initiative. The partner schools and school districts include those that are local and others located in rural or remote communities. Often, the rural schools do not have access to extensive professional development opportunities for their teachers.
"They aren't near a large university or even a regional university system," said Turner, a UA assistant professor in the teaching, learning and sociocultural studies department in the College of Education.
Also, the schools have sizable populations of students who tend to underperform on the math section of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards and whose families are below the federal poverty line.
"We often work with the local districts, but this is a way to begin making connections and starting collaborations in those communities," Turner also said.
The training utilizes Intel Math, which is designed to improve teachers' math skills through problem-solving methods – specifically related to core math subjects – while also expanding their teaching skills.
At 104 hours, the training is more extensive than what is typically involved by way of professional development, with elements designed to consult on best practices and help teachers improve their mathematics and teaching skills.
"It is focused and content-driven," Anhalt said. "The involvement of mathematics educators and mathematicians is key in our partnership."
Of the 104 hours, 80 will be devoted to the content-specific Intel Math Course, which is slated to begin in the fall. Also, teachers commit to 12 hours toward teaching improvements and 12 hours devoted to the state's core math standards.
Teachers will be split into four cohorts, meeting at locations in or near their respective home communities. There, UA math educators and mathematicians will co-teach courses.
In that way, the teachers are able to engage "in safe and supportive space to deepen their own content knowledge," Turner said. The training also will enable the teachers to practice their new knowledge and to exchange ideas prior to returning to their respective classrooms.
"The course also is modeling the types of things we want them to model in their own classrooms," Anhalt said.
Because of its structure, the embedded support and promise for improving student learning, the demand for the professional development has been high, Anhalt said, adding: "They really need this type of professional development."