By Mark Cramer
NSF program adds up to better math education for schools
Southern New Mexico mathematics educators and their students are getting a “lift” from a research partnership between New Mexico State University and surrounding school districts. A total of 31 K-12 math teachers are participating in the Mathematically Connected Communities – Leadership Institute for Teachers or “MC2-LIFT” project. About half the participating teachers are K-5 teachers. Other cohort members include middle school math teachers, high school teachers or mathematics specialists.
The LIFT program, funded by a research grant award from the National Science Foundation, offers participating educators 33 credit hours of coursework – 18 in mathematics and 15 in education. It is a partnership between NMSU’s College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences, as well as five school districts: Alamogordo Public Schools, Gadsden Independent School District, Hatch Valley Schools, Las Cruces Public Schools and Ruidoso Municipal Schools.
Candidates must be current classroom teachers or have regular access to a math classroom. Teacher-leader candidates must commit to a two-year LIFT institute that leads to K-12 mathematics coach certification and a Master of Arts in Teaching Mathematics.
“The MC2-LIFT project was designed in partnership with mathematicians, education faculty and school district leaders to develop mathematics teacher-leaders who have a deep conceptual knowledge of K-12 mathematics,” said Pat Morandi, a math professor at NMSU and principal investigator of the program. “The vision of the project is that teachers completing the institute will become intellectual leaders able to create rich mathematics learning environments in their schools and districts.”
The first year of study focuses on improving classroom practice to increase student learning through the development of pedagogical and math content knowledge. The second year focuses on developing expertise in working with adult learners and facilitating professional learning among colleagues and administrators within a school system.
“Rising expectations for classroom teachers to increase student achievement, coupled with the lack of opportunities for administrators or teachers to build the necessary content and pedagogical knowledge to support all students, have created educational fault lines that teachers and students are falling through,” said Cathy Kinzer, who heads up MC2-LIFT’s education courses and is an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at NMSU. “The university LIFT courses and school-based learning experiences are designed to build the professional knowledge needed for effective math teaching, develop leadership capacity, and ultimately improve students’ learning in K-12 classrooms.”
Teachers in the program attend three-week summer institutes over two consecutive summers, as well as participate in four semesters of integrated education and math coursework. The mathematical learning for LIFT teachers is grounded in the mathematics they teach in their classrooms. Teachers have shared experiences of doing mathematics together and studying relevant educational content in their LIFT coursework. The LIFT teachers implement what they learn into their school setting. They also partner with their principals to develop and implement plans for school mathematics improvement.
There is a financial incentive as well: program graduates can receive up to a $20,000 stipend ($10,000 annually) for efforts beyond duties as a teacher, though they are responsible for paying for tuition.
School principals also participate in five days of MC2-LIFT professional development for principals, which includes up to a $1,000 stipend. They also participate in monthly partnership planning meetings with teacher leaders and MC2 LIFT school support team members, and develop agreements with teacher leader candidates to implement a school-based plan for mathematics improvement.
A School Support Team provides site-based support for teacher-leaders and partnering principals to ensure MC2-LIFT institute activities address K-12 student learning needs. The school-based efforts are a vital part of this research project.
“As faculty in the MC2-LIFT program, we make a commitment to collaboratively develop, teach, and use feedback to redesign institute courses to improve mathematics teaching and learning,” Kinzer said.