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UA helps area teachers transition to new STEM curriculum

Published 4:28pm Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A group of professors at The University of Alabama is helping K-12 teachers in West Alabama change how they teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, subjects.

Through The University of Alabama/University of West Alabama Regional In-Service Center, math, science and education faculty have begun their second year of professional development and in-class support with teachers from school districts in Demopolis, Hale County, Lamar County, Marengo County and Tuscaloosa.

The In-Service Center earlier secured an $800,000 Mathematics and Science Partnership Competitive Grant from the Alabama State Department of Education to establish Improving Mathematical Practices for Alabama Classroom Teachers. This initiative, known as IMPACT, is designed to help teachers in West Alabama prepare for curriculum and testing changes under the Alabama College and Career Ready Initiative .

The funding is provided by the United States Department of Education and is distributed through a competitive grant program from the Alabama State Department of Education. The duration of the grant will impact West Alabama teachers from 2012 to 2015.

“The overarching goal is to improve student achievement in math and science by impacting the content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and technology skills of area teachers,” said Dr. Terri Boman, director of the UA/UWA Regional In-Service Center and principal investigator for the project.

Alabama teachers face sweeping change in testing and content under the Alabama College and Career Ready Initiative, which has implemented more challenging curriculum for both teachers and students.

The math component of the ACCRI began in 2012, while science began this school year.

Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski, math education professor, said the grant allows UA faculty to work with area teachers in the capacity that research best dictates, which is a year-round schedule instead of meeting exclusively during the summer months.

“You have to be engaged the entire year, especially when they’re teaching every day,” said Zelkowski. “We all met for a week this summer, where we developed lessons, a lot with technology. But we also met five other times during the year, including working in their classrooms.”

Dr. Jim Gleason, associate professor of mathematics, has assisted with elementary and secondary components of the grant. He said UA faculty members have spent 15 days with area elementary teachers since the grant project began in 2012.

One of the greater hurdles, Gleason said, has been changing teachers’ perceptions that their students will struggle with new curriculum and teaching. The new curriculum is in line with the adoption of the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards that raises the expectations in K-12 mathematics. The new standards challenge students to be critical, resourceful thinkers. Gleason said that math education isn’t about a “bunch of procedures, but a way of thinking.”

UA faculty are helping teachers work on the skills of thinking about numbers and operations, rather than procedures of computing, and real-world problem solving, he said.

“The one thing we’ve actually seen at the elementary level, after changing for the year, students are now saying math is their favorite subject,” said Gleason. “It’s more creative, it’s problem solving. They’re figuring things out.”

“What excites me the most is when the teachers actually see students doing the harder thinking, because they didn’t think they could do it,” Gleason added. “That’s the big ‘aha moment’ for the teachers.”

STEM faculty at UA include Dr. Shane Street, UA associate professor of chemistry, and Katherine Nichols, UA instructor of mathematics, and, from the University of West Alabama, Hazel Truelove (mathematics). The grant also includes coordinated professional development efforts with the Alabama Mathematics, Science and Technology Initiative and the Alabama Science in Motion program, programs administrated by the UA/UWA Regional In-Service Center.

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