Reprinted here with the permission of the University of Delaware. No further republication or redistribution is permitted without the written permission of the editor.
New study is one for the books
When the American Association for the Advancement of Science completed its comprehensive, national evaluation of middle-school math textbooks, researchers were able to rate various texts according to the effectiveness of their presentation.
What the analysis couldn't determine, however, was how those texts were being used by real teachers in real schools.
To extend the study into actual classrooms, the association turned to a CHEP research center that already had experience with model math instruction, through the National Science Foundation's ongoing Delaware 6-12 Exemplary Mathematics Implementation project, known as DEMCI.
"As a result of our involvement with the DEMCI project, a large number of middle schools and high schools in Delaware are using the top-rated math texts and curriculum materials," says Jon Manon, assistant professor of education and a researcher in CHEP's Mathematics and Science Education Resource Center (MSERC). "But, the questions remain: Are they being used to their full potential? Are they being implemented in a way that benefits students most effectively?"
Researchers at MSERC and at Texas A&M University are attempting to answer those questions by undertaking a five-year project to observe and analyze middle school math teachers as they work with selected series of textbooks and curriculum materials. Beginning in September, teachers in Delaware and Texas will be videotaped presenting certain lessons and then interviewed about their instructional methods. Their students also will be interviewed and tested.
Under discussion at UD are plans to teach education students how to videotape some of the lessons, as a way for them to both assist the research and also observe classrooms in action.
The project is funded by the Interagency Education Research Initiative Research Study, a partnership of the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It represents a collaboration of the two universities and Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
About two years ago, researchers with Project 2061 evaluated math textbooks nationwide, comparing various series with what research had determined was the ideal way to learn mathematical principles and concepts. That evaluation found that the best texts get students involved in figuring out for themselves how to solve math problems.
Because the top-rated texts require a change in methods, many teachers initially may find them difficult to use, Manon says.
"It's one thing to say that these materials look as if they support excellent instruction," he says. "It's another thing to see if they actually do it--if they actually work in the classroom."
This type of research, which looks beyond theory to examine and improve implementation, is unusual and exciting, according to Kathleen Morris, senior program associate with Project 2061, who is coordinating the study.
"I think we're going to see a wide spread in instructional methods this first year of the study, and then, as we work with teachers on the best instructional strategies, we'll see more fidelity of implementation," Morris says.
In Delaware, Manon says, MSERC spent the summer recruiting teachers to participate. This school year, 40 sixth- and seventh-grade teachers, using two of the highest-rated math textbook series, will be observed in their classrooms.
One of the first to volunteer was Karen Madden, CHEP '99, a seventh-grade math teacher in New Castle, Del.
"I was very happy to see that they were going to go into classrooms and observe the theory in practice, and I wanted to be part of that if I could," she says. "Also, I love the Math in Context curriculum that I use, because I see how well my students respond to it."
Based on the classroom observations and analysis, the researchers will design professional development programs to help teachers use the best materials most effectively.
On The Web:
Univeristy of Delaware
University of Delaware, Office of Public Relations
University of Delaware Messenger
Solving the Equation, from the Project 2061 newsletter
Manser, A. 2002. New study is one for the books. Messenger, 11 (2).