Mason Partners with School Districts to Support Math Teacher Preparation

Posted: March 1, 2010 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: February 26, 2010 at 4:53 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Jennifer Suh. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Suh

The simple yet classic handshake math problem continues to engage people: How many different handshakes are possible in a room with ā€œnā€ people? There are so many ways to figure out the problem, and it becomes even more interesting as the number of people increases.

For two Mason professors, there is no greater joy than engaging teachers and students in critical thinking and problem solving and teaching strategies to solve problems.

Jennifer Suh, assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education and Human Development, and Padhu Seshaiyer, associate professor of mathematical sciences in the College of Science, are committed to improving mathematics teacher preparation and professional development that will enhance student learning.

The pair recently applied for and received two grants from the Virginia Department of Education to establish a Math Science Partnership (MSP) Center that will support student learning in grades K-3 and 7-8. The grants will provide professional development for math teachers, special educators and teachers of students with limited English proficiency.

Partnering with six school districts in Northern Virginia (Alexandria, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Loudoun County, Manassas and Prince William County), the professors will establish a new MSP Center at Mason titled COMPLETE: Center for Outreach in Mathematics Professional Learning and Educational Technology.

Padhu Seshaiyer. Creative Services photo

“We are very excited to receive the two grants because it indicates that the state of Virginia recognizes that Mason has the capacity to support the needs of teachers in these school districts,” says Suh. “We hope that the teachers’ experiences help them develop a positive attitude toward mathematics and learn new strategies that they can implement in the classroom.”

The new grants build on the success of two previous projects on which Suh and Seshaiyer are working: ACT NOW in MATH: Algebraic Connections and Technology in Middle Grades Math; and IMPACT: Improving Mathematical Practices via Algebraic Connections and Technology in Elementary and Middle School Mathematics.

Since 2008, ACT NOW and IMPACT have been supporting teachers in transforming their teaching styles to bring more algebraic connections to what they teach in elementary and middle school mathematics.

“Just as with our two previous projects, we want the new center to promote excellence in teaching, learning and collaborative coaching through innovative and solution-oriented initiatives,” says Seshaiyer.

“Through the center we plan to deliver content-focused professional development, provide meaningful mathematics learning to underrepresented populations and utilize technological tools for e-learning.”

Classes will address the needs of each school district and focus on topics such as algebraic foundations, algebraic connections and critical thinking skills in rational numbers and proportional reasoning.

The new MSP Center will be structured like ACT NOW and IMPACT, with summer institutes; follow-up seminars; and content-focused webinars that promote research-based learning for teachers.

The grant will also provide scholarships for Mason undergraduate and graduate students. The students will work with the assigned coaches and teacher leaders in each school district and monitor the classes being taught.

Beginning this spring, Suh and Seshaiyer will recruit teachers to participate in the summer institutes. The teachers who participate will earn three graduate-level credits from Mason.

Suh and Seshaiyer hope to build other initiatives through the center, such as mathematics enrichment clubs and camps to introduce students to math at a young age and show them how to apply it outside the classroom.

For more information about the MSP Center, contact Suh at 703-993-9119 or Seshaiyer at 703-993-9787.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu