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UTA receives $300K in support from NSF to improve curricula for future high school mathematics teachers
Mathematicians at The University of Texas at Arlington are conducting research to refine and supplement curriculum materials used in college mathematics courses designed for students who plan to become high school math teachers.

The project specifically aims to enhance materials currently used in UTeach Arlington, UTA’s version of the highly successful science and mathematics secondary teacher preparation program which has been replicated at 43 universities across the United States. More than one third of UTeach nationwide is comprised of students historically underrepresented in science technology, engineering and mathematics courses.

“This project will impact the learning experiences of hundreds of thousands of socioeconomically disadvantaged students across the country, as 66 percent of UTeach program graduates nationwide go on to teach in schools where the majority of students are low-income,” said James Epperson, UTA associate professor of mathematics and leader of the project. “In addition, we will not limit dissemination to UTeach programs, so the project has the potential to impact an even larger and more diverse group of teachers and their students.”

The project is supported by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Undergraduate Education, with Theresa Jorgensen, associate professor of mathematics, and Kathryn Rhoads, visiting assistant professor of mathematics, participating as co-principal investigators.

The focus of the project is MATH 2330 or Functions and Modeling — a course taken by all UTeach mathematics majors who are seeking teacher certification in mathematics. To increase K-12 students’ interest and success in mathematics, teachers need to have a thorough understanding of the mathematics they teach. However, research has shown that many secondary school mathematics teachers lack a deep understanding of some of the mathematical concepts they teach, in part because many undergraduate mathematics courses do not offer opportunities for teachers to deeply study these concepts. There are few curricular resources available for use in college mathematics courses designed to train future secondary mathematics teachers.

“This project is important because we aim to develop course materials in ways that can deepen teachers’ understanding of the mathematics they will teach; hence the project has the potential to positively impact both secondary school mathematics teachers and, in turn, the students they teach,” Rhoads said.

As a first step for the project, the UTA mathematicians brought in a prestigious group of math education research and practitioner experts in mid-July to provide feedback on the current course materials, including Olive Chapman, board member for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and editor of the Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education; Elizabeth Burroughs, chair of the Mathematical Association of America’s committee on the Mathematical Education of Teachers; and Jennifer Hylemon, K-12 director of mathematics at Grapevine-Colleyville ISD and vice president of the board of directors for the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching.

“This will help us identify the most important research-based aspects on teachers’ understandings of functions that need to be addressed in addition to those already identified by me in preliminary pilot classroom studies after having taught from the materials three times,” Epperson said. “These materials have been used at all 43 UTeach institutions and all sites are required to use them in their first year of implementation. Many universities continue to use the materials and our project, once finalized, will be a natural starting point for dissemination nationwide across the UTeach network.”

The researchers are using feedback received from the panel of experts to make small changes for implementation this fall as well as to create an assessment that will provide information regarding the effectiveness of the materials at addressing key concepts, Epperson said. This fall they will collect data and then analyze the data next spring to begin making research-based changes to the
From left, Theresa Jorgensen, James Epperson and Kathryn Rhoads

materials. An advisory board composed of math education researchers and school supervisor leaders, UTeach Institute representatives and others, will guide the external evaluation of products developed by the researchers.

“After feedback is received, changes will be made next summer and the process will repeat in Fall 2017,” Epperson said. “In Spring 2018, after analyzing all data collected, we will again revise and create materials as well as draft the instructor notes. In Fall 2018, we will study the use of the materials at various sites as well as study how a novice instructor uses the materials. These materials focus on inquiry-based learning; many instructors have never learned in this type of setting and may not know how to implement mathematical tasks and explorations that are meant to be used in this manner.”

The project builds upon curriculum development and research which Epperson has conducted for the last two decades. The creation of research- and standards-based materials has a natural connection to recent joint work by Epperson and Rhoads on high-yield mathematical tasks for teachers, as well as to research conducted by Epperson on strengthening problem solving for in-service mathematics teachers, and to work done by Jorgensen and Epperson as part of UTA’s Mathematics Teacher Preparation Academy.

Epperson earned his doctorate in mathematics from UT Austin in 1996 and came to UTA in 2001. He received the UTA Innovation in Teaching Award in 2009 and the UTA Provost’s Research Excellence Award each year from 2005-10. He is a recipient of the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2010 and the Mathematical Association of America Texas Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics in 2012, and he was named to the UTA Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 2012.

Jorgensen earned her doctorate in mathematics from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2000 and came to UTA in 2002. She received the UTA Provost’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005, the UTA Honors College Distinguished Faculty Award in 2006, and the UT System Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2010. She was named a member of the UTA Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 2016.

Rhoads earned her doctorate in education from Rutgers University in 2014 and came to UTA as a visiting assistant professor that same year. She has conducted extensive research in mathematics education, including ongoing projects funded by the NSF and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board which focus on mathematical problem solving and representational connections in algebraic reasoning.

Posted September 8, 2016
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