As fewer young people opt for careers in science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics (STEM), the National Science Foundation has funded
EDC to develop a resource designed to engage young people in career
exploration and development.
Robin Fies stands at the blackboard in a small auditorium at Watertown High School in Massachusetts as 16
teenagers pass through the door and take their seats. In her 30 years
of teaching high school mathematics, Fies has seen just about every
classroom configuration possible, from lectures and rows to small
groups to the open classroom. But today her precalculus class looks
different than it ever has before.
For students who are struggling with math, finding exciting and engaging ways to interest them in the subject and help them succeed can be a difficult task. There is no shortage of web sites and software packages that help students practice their skills, but these can often lead to frustration for students. Integrating math with other disciplines into hands-on, project-based learning activities can transform math from a daunting and overwhelming subject to an approachable and practical set of skills.
Bernie Zubrowski, a senior scientist at EDC’s Center for Science Education, has been recently recognized, both nationally and regionally, for his distinguished contributions to the world of children’s science education.
For more than thirty years, Paul Goldenberg has worked on the front lines of the “math wars,” watching as educators, researchers, and communities battle over the relative merits of competing approaches to mathematics education: Traditional “drill and practice” instruction versus “reform math”; back-to-basics versus “Standards-based” methods.
Boston University—in partnership with Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) and five Boston-area school districts—has been awarded a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation to build a mathematical community of expert teachers who will collaborate with university mathematicians and educators in a sustained effort to increase student achievement.
When Maine Governor Angus King first proposed last year to provide
a laptop computer to every middle school student, many educational
technology experts considered it to be a courageous experiment,
but were concerned
that it put the
cart before the horse—that technology would drive, rather than serve, educational practices.
The school administrators’ role has never been more challenging. They oversee increasingly complex, high-tech facilities while serving more and more diverse communities. But the central task remains the same: improving teaching and learning within a school or a district.
Frustrated with the standard lecture approach to mathematics, teachers have developed a hands-on, interactive lesson that uses the relative heat of chili peppers to introduce and explore the mathematics concepts of properties and logarithms.
The GE Fund today released a new study that documents obstacles and solutions for improving minority and female student performance in pursuing careers in science, engineering, and technology (SET). Upping the Numbers, co-authored by EDC and Campbell-Kibler Associates, is one of the first studies to gather data on what really works to increase under-represented students’ interest and success in these fields.
Last June, NASA sent up a probe to gather information on the shape of the universe. Last week, Jeff Weeks showed a group of Massachusetts secondary math teachers how tic-tac-toe and other familiar games can help students explore similar questions.
Over the past decade, thousands of school districts around the country have implemented mathematics curricula based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. These Standards, first published in 1989 and revised in 2000, laid out a new vision for the teaching and learning of mathematics, and prompted the development of new curricula at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.
The Internet is full of math problems, but many of them are pointless, says EDC’s Paul Goldenberg. They exist solely to practice what a student already knows, without leading to or developing larger concepts or questions. In such cases, he says, “the individual problems don’t matter, and neither do the answers.”
According to researchers in EDC’s Center for Mathematics Education, traditional mathematics curricula have neglected visual mathematics in favor of verbal and logical approaches that may not work as well for many students.
In her years of research and collaboration with teachers, Deborah Schifter knows how difficult it is to change the way you teach. It’s particularly hard in mathematics, where prescriptive textbooks have provided a welcome crutch for many teachers.
Once taught primarily to college-bound students, algebra is now recognized as a critical “gateway” course for all students. “It’s considered the entrée into higher math, the hard sciences, even into university study itself,” explains Peter Braunfeld, professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “It’s become the difference between getting in and being left out.”
In our introduction to this issue of Mosaic, we referred to Paulo Freire’s description of literacy as “reading the word and world.” That same phrase-with its dual emphasis on the concrete and the abstract—can be used to characterize EDC’s definition of mathematical literacy.
One of the first principles of universal design is that it is
better to build flexible options into a curriculum at the outset
rather than trying to retrofit the program after it is published.
A corollary might be that even when you’ve built in flexibility,
you never stop retrofitting to meet the needs of an ever-expanding
universe of users.
Elegance. Culture. Habits of mind. Such phrases are usually reserved for literature, philosophy, or fine arts. But in the case of EDC’s newest curriculum, they describe geometry. While covering the basics of high school geometry, Connected Geometry discusses ways to build elegant bridges among mathematical ideas, create a lively culture of mathematical investigation, and develop students’ abilities to inquire and think.
The staff of EDC’s K-12 Mathematics Curriculum Center at EDC likes to think of their new book, Choosing a Standards-Based Mathematics Curriculum, as the “eyes, yardsticks, and noses” schools will use to evaluate and select a mathematics program that fits their needs.
Al Cuoco, director of EDC’s Mathematics Initiative, and EDC Vice President Wayne Harvey, a mathematics education researcher, emphasize that improving mathematics education goes beyond a simple choice between traditional mathematics and mathematics based on the NCTM standards.
Al Cuoco might have added that there are things kids need to understand about mathematics that do not show up on the traditional mathematics tests. And that touches on a particularly difficult issue for mathematics educators today: How can we evaluate students’ understanding of mathematical methods and concepts as well as their command of specific skills? What new tools and strategies do we need? And what roles should teachers play in employing these tools and strategies?