Making Mathematical Connections
The UW Oshkosh Mathematics Department has been awarded a three-year grant totaling $446,419 through the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program of the U.S. Department of Education. This grant will fund Making Mathematical Connections: Mathematics Knowledge for Teaching in Grades 4-8, a partnership between UW Oshkosh and nine Northeastern Wisconsin school districts, including Clintonville, Lomira, Menasha, Neenah, New London, Oshkosh, North Fond du Lac, Seymour and Wild Rose. The project will provide intensive professional development in mathematics content for 39 teachers in grades 4 through 8. Eric Kuennen of the UW Oshkosh Mathematics Department is the project director and principal investigator. He will be working with John Beam and Jen Szydlik, also of the UWO Mathematics Department, to develop and deliver the professional development program. Michelle Fleming from the UW Oshkosh College of Education and Human Services is the project’s evaluator.
The goal of Making Mathematical Connections is to improve student achievement through deepening teachers' mathematics knowledge for teaching, focusing on mathematical thinking, conceptual understanding of fundamental concepts in the curricula and the relationships between these concepts, and multiple representations and strategies for solving problems. We aim to help teachers build a deep and flexible knowledge of mathematics, become confident in their ability to think mathematically and appreciate the rich connections in mathematics. We will prepare teachers to actively engage their students in solving problems with a high level of cognitive demand, press their students for conceptual understanding, and be able to listen, evaluate and respond to student reasoning and multiple ways of thinking.
Thirty-nine teachers from twelve different school districts are participating in the three-year program. Each year of the program, participants will attend a two-week intensive summer workshop on the UW Oshkosh campus, taught by faculty in the Mathematics Department. The workshops will focus on Number and Algebra in 2010, Geometry and Measurement in 2011, and Probability and Statistics in 2012. Connections among mathematics concepts will be stressed. Each content topic will be addressed through active engagement in mathematics problem solving followed by a focus on children's thinking on the topic and its connections to the curriculum.
This first Making Mathematical Connections summer institute was held on the UWO campus in August 2010. Participant feedback revealed that a major impact of the project is that many participants want to adopt the teaching methods used by the faculty in the Summer Institute and increase the emphasis in their mathematics lessons on problem-based inquiry, or teaching through problem-solving. For instance one participant reported, “I am 100 percent intending to incorporate the station problems that I have developed over the course of the workshop. Moreover, I think that the foundation provided through the workshop has helped me to see not only the benefits of including such investigative learning practices, but also the necessity for them.” Participants indicated that they have developed more positive attitudes towards the teaching of mathematics. For example, one participant shared, “The workshop made me rethink the way I have been teaching for the last 20 years!” Another participant enthusiastically offered, “If I could have somehow designed a course to help me do what I do in my classroom, this would have been it!”
During the upcoming academic year, participants will collaborate in teams to study the concepts underlying curriculum units, and develop strategies and lessons that will be implemented in the classroom. The UWO mathematics faculty will visit classrooms to work with the participants through mathematics content-focused coaching.