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NSF Grant article

$4.99 Million NSF Grant Benefits Idaho and Washington Teachers

Story by Cheryl Dudley

The University of Idaho, in partnership with Washington State University, has been awarded a $4.99 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to help Washington and Idaho teachers strengthen mathematic reasoning skills in students.

The grant is part of the NSF’s Mathematics and Science Partnership program called “Making Math Reasoning Explicit,” (MMRE). It will provide funding to create a series of summer institutes and academic year professional development support for elementary and secondary mathematics teachers in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

“This project is an exciting opportunity for us to work more closely with teachers in our region,” said Anne Adams, U-Idaho assistant professor in the College of Education and one of four principal investigators on the project management team. “I love working with teachers, especially when we are all focused on helping students understand mathematics.”

By making students' mathematical reasoning explicit and asking students to justify their reasoning, teachers will learn how each student is thinking about mathematics and use this information to make instructional decisions to meet various students' needs. Students will hear a variety of strategies for solving problems and gain different perspectives and approaches to reasoning, and use this information in their own thinking.

Learning how to explain and justify abstract mathematical concepts can help teachers and students apply problem-solving skills to everyday life. “Too often students are taught the hows of mathematics, but they don’t understand why a particular procedure works,” said Libby Knott, WSU professor of mathematics and also a principal investigator for the project. “If you learn to support and justify your conclusions, those reasoning skills are transferrable to daily life.”

Anne agrees. “The project will allow us to provide support for teachers as they move to teaching the new Common Core Mathematics standards, which require them to engage students in problem solving and reasoning about mathematical relationships,” she said. “Such reasoning leads to deeper understanding both of mathematics and of the work of mathematicians.”

The first cohort of teachers to participate in the project will be selected from Washington districts Bridgeport, Brewster, Creston, Davenport, Grand Coulee Dam, and Wilber; and Idaho districts Boundary County, Kellogg, Lake Pend Oreille, and West Bonner. District administrators from each teacher’s district will also attend each summer institute for three days.

Selected teachers will participate in MMRE for three years. During the first year, teachers will study proportional reasoning and develop their understanding of justification and generalization. They will also develop leadership skills to provide an emphasis on mathematical reasoning to classroom activities. The second year teachers will focus on expanding and sharing knowledge to other teachers within their building, and will ultimately receive strong leadership support to extend their training expertise throughout their school district.

This project represents a close partnership between higher education professionals and school professionals. Regional teachers and administrators are working with university faculty to develop courses and workshops for the project. The project will also allow university faculty to conduct research about how students engage in reasoning and justification about mathematics and how teachers develop ways to help students.

Investigators and senior personnel on the project include a consortium of university faculty from the U-Idaho and WSU, and one K-12 superintendent:

• Anne Adams, Assistant Professor, U-Idaho Department of Curriculum and Instruction
• Tom Asaki, Associate Professor, WSU Department of Mathematics
• Rob Ely, Assistant Professor, U-Idaho Department of Mathematics
• Jennifer Johnson-Leung, Assistant Professor, U-Idaho Department of Mathematics
• Libby Knott, Full Professor, WSU Department of Mathematics
• Jim Kowalkowski, Superintendent of the Davenport school district, and Director of the Washington Rural Education Association
• Jo Olson, Assistant Professor, WSU Department of, Teaching and Learning

The Mathematics and Science Partnership program at NSF responds to the growing national concern for the educational performance of U.S. children in mathematics and science. Through MSP, NSF awards competitive, merit-based grants to teams composed of institutions of higher education, local K-12 school systems, and their supporting partners.