UCLA has received a grant of $435,000 to improve the teaching of mathematics in the Alhambra and Pasadena Unified school districts.
According to project director Susie Hakansson, the three-year program is designed to enhance the competence and confidence of teachers by giving them new classroom strategies for teaching "math for understanding," as opposed to rote mathematics.
The program is also designed to improve the mathematical achievement of minority students, she said.
Hakansson said the program is especially important in light of the changing Southern California classroom, where minorities are often the majority.
Local teachers, she said, "need professional development activities that provide them with the knowledge, skills and strategies to improve the quality of mathematics instruction for all students."
'Guide on the Side'
One aim of the program is to teach the teacher to become "a guide on the side" instead of "a sage on the stage," Hakansson said. She explained that instead of lecturing to their classes, teachers will learn how to let the children discover their own answers through hands-on activities in groups of mixed ability. "Research has shown that children learn well in groups," Hakansson said. She also noted that problem-solving in groups is common in industry and elsewhere in the post-school world.
The teachers' training will also include learning how to use "manipulatives," things the students can touch, to help them learn. Youngsters might study certain aspects of statistics and probabilities by using a bag of M & Ms, she said. She explained that they could count how many candies of each color the bag contains, then determine the probability of getting a green one.
Donna Perez, who is the Alhambra School District's liaison with the program, noted that manipulatives are often invaluable when teaching students who speak little or no English.
Fourth- through eighth-grade teachers will participate in the program, which is being administered by the UCLA Center for Academic Interinstitutional Programs (CAIP), a unit of the Graduate School of Education.
The program will begin this summer, when 70 teachers--two from each of the participating elementary and middle schools--will attend a weeklong workshop on the UCLA campus. Next year, an additional teacher from each school will be trained. Ultimately, one teacher from each school will be designated a teacher consultant who will share expertise with the other teachers in that school.
Hakansson said the program is unusual in that it will involve entire school districts rather than a single school.
The program is being paid for with federal money disbursed by the California Department of Education and the California Postsecondary Education Commission.