Dr. Douglas Corey, a professor in the BYU Department of Mathematics Education, was recently awarded a $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant – awarded to Corey and three other colleagues, including Heather C. Hill of Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Geoffrey C. Phelps and Robin Jacob of the University of Michigan – will help fund the recipients’ study, “Investigating the Effect of Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching on Instruction and Student Outcomes.”
The study, which Corey described as a large-scale venture, will focus on mathematics teachers in the Albuquerque, N.M., public school system. Corey and his colleagues hope to observe the teachers and gather information that will help researchers evaluate teacher development programs and identify the mathematical knowledge necessary for teachers to instruct effectively.
The researchers plan to enroll certain teachers in the Albuquerque school district in a professional training and evaluation program. They will then measure the effectiveness of these teachers against that of their non-enrolled counterparts.
“We hope to find good evidence of a high quality professional evaluation program,” Corey said. “We want to learn what knowledge teachers need to have in order to teach math well.”
Many Americans, including those in government, have become increasingly worried about the state of math education in the country’s public schools. Data show the United States falling drastically behind other nations in math and science proficiency, a trend that has sparked interest in determining the reason for the gap.
Corey said the reasons behind America’s weakness in math education are many.
“There’s not just one thing,” he said. “There are a lot of reasons. We don’t spend as much time on mathematics as we should and we have a fairly shallow curriculum. We review a lot, rather than focusing on new material. Most of our students never learn calculus until college.”
However, Corey said one problem could lie with teachers’ preparedness.
“Many of our teachers just don’t know enough math to be effective,” he said. “There are many methods to teach math. Some work for some students, but not for others.”
Yet Corey and his colleagues are hopeful that progress can be made and American math education improved.
“Kids need to do hard thinking with math,” he said. “They need to sit and solve problems that no one has told them how to solve. If we do that regularly, things will begin to improve.”
The group’s study will span four years and focus on 80 Fourth and Fifth Grade teachers in 12 Albuquerque elementary schools. Funding will be provided by the NSF grant.