WMU News

WMU joins new K-12 math education initiative

Nov. 3, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- Mathematics education faculty at Western Michigan University have joined colleagues at two other major research universities to launch a national research center aimed at improving the teaching and learning of mathematics in K-12 schools.

In October, the National Science Foundation announced funding for the Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum with a five-year, $10 million grant. The center is a collaborative effort involving WMU, Michigan State University and the University of Missouri. Also contributing to the work of the center are: the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project; Horizon Research Inc., which is a private research firm in Chapel Hill, N.C.; and educators in four school districts, including the Kalamazoo Public Schools and Battle Creek Public Schools.

Co-directors of the new center are: Dr. Christian Hirsch, WMU professor of mathematics; Dr. Glenda Lappan, MSU professor of mathematics; and Dr. Barbara Reys, MU professor of mathematics. WMU's work in the center will be under the direction of Hirsch and WMU co-directors Dr. Kate Kline and Dr. Steven Ziebarth. The center has three main goals:

Increase the number of doctoral students in mathematics education;

Conduct research on mathematics curricula; and

Collaborate with K-12 teachers to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics for all students.

The center will formally begin its work in January. Together, the universities involved have a long history in mathematics curriculum development, implementation and evaluation.

"Mathematics is fundamental to the success of students in so many ways, and an award of this magnitude recognizes the national reputation that our universities have established in mathematics education" says Dr. Daniel Litynski, WMU provost and vice president for academic affairs. "This new initiative builds on the significant contributions our researchers have already made in the field."

Over the five years of the effort, the new center will support 30 doctoral fellowships; 30 curriculum interns; 100 K-12 school, district and state curriculum leaders; and more than 200 teachers in the four partner school districts. At WMU, that will translate to an immediate recruitment of new doctoral students to fill as many as four full-time doctoral fellowships annually for all five years of the effort. Center fellows will have opportunities to work closely with faculty and engage in a range of projects and research activities related to mathematics curricula.

The local school districts involved with WMU will serve as sites for research and professional development for teachers. Both Battle Creek and Kalamazoo Public Schools have utilized curricula to move their districts forward in mathematics. Over the past several years, the Battle Creek system has collaborated with WMU on curriculum development efforts and on long-term projects in which teachers have committed to more than 100 hours of professional development work aimed at implementing innovative mathematics curricula. Work with the new center will focus on continued collaboration, sustaining the district's efforts and supporting teachers' continued professional efforts.

Kalamazoo Public Schools is at the beginning of a rigorous curriculum adoption process that calls for investigation of recent research, identification of areas for improvement and piloting of new curriculum materials. WMU will collaborate with KPS during the process to support the district's efforts to consider the ways in which mathematics curricula can influence student learning.

"Discussions have already started with our partners in the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo schools," says Kline of the center's WMU component. "In each case, we'll be working with teachers to consider ways in which students learn mathematics with understanding and to determine how such learning can be supported with carefully designed curriculum materials.

Her colleague Steve Ziebarth says the schools will also contribute to helping set a research agenda.

"Each school gives us an opportunity to address different sets of research questions," says Ziebarth. "We'll look at the questions to be addressed and begin to design tools that can be used across curricula. The effectiveness of this center will be driven by the individual strengths that each university brings and will be enhanced by collaboration among center partners."

The three core universities and the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project each have established track records in the development and/or implementation and evaluation of high-quality mathematics curriculum materials, Hirsch says.

WMU has been a center for the development of Core-Plus Mathematics, an integrated high school mathematics curriculum. MSU has served as a development site for a middle school mathematics curriculum called Connected Mathematics, and the University of Chicago Mathematics Project is the development site for both elementary and secondary mathematics curricula. For the past seven years, MU has been a center for the implementation of NSF-funded middle school mathematics curricula.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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