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$198,407 Grant Will Help Math Teachers
September 29, 2005

A $198,407 grant from the Michigan Department of Education will allow Calvin College mathematics professor Jan Koop to work to improve math education in three Grand Rapids-area schools.

The two-year, Title II "Improving Teacher Quality Grant" will allow Koop to conduct workshops and provide other incentives for teachers at Alexander and Shawnee Elementary schools and Oakdale Christian School.

"Their job is much more complicated than it used to be," Koop says of the teachers she will be training.

One complication is the schools' expanded idea of mathematics education.

"Math teaching used to be based on computation," says Koop. "Now it includes geometry, statistics, probability, algebra - and that's not an exclusive list. But those are things that are state mandated and important concepts in mathematics."

Koop is hoping to equip teachers to teach not only the mechanics of math, but also the mathematical underpinnings of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

"We want them to understand deeply - and have their students understand deeply - the concepts behind the mathematics," she says. "Instead of teaching them 35 little factoids, we want them to understand the whole mathematical structure."

Anita Watson-Phillips, the math curriculum supervisor for the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS), is excited about Koop's approach.

"I'm happy to be working with Jan Koop," she says, "and I know that the math programs at Calvin teach math in such a way that this will be beneficial to students' progress. One of the concerns we've had is so many teachers have been taught to teach math as computational procedure, when we really need students to understand the concepts of math. This collaboration will help us give teachers that background in math content and pedagogy that they might not have had before."

Part of the grant monies will pay for workshops, where teachers from the three schools will use pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods and other hands-on teaching tools to model mathematical concepts. The program will also provide workshops that explore curriculum, technology and other aspects of math pedagogy.

Calvin education professors Ronald Sjoerdsma and Sue Hasseler will conduct workshops on differentiated instruction (teaching students with varying levels of understanding within the same classroom) and culturally sensitive instruction.

Other grant funds will cover the cost of substitute teachers, so that educators from the same school can have grade-level meetings and visit each other's classes to share teaching ideas.

"The hope," Koop says, "is that we’ll be able to create a learning community among the teachers within the schools."

Koop will hire Mary DeYoung, a Hope College professor of mathematics to assist her in the program. She will also invite her students to assist the Alexander, Shawnee and Oakdale teachers as an optional component of her "Mathematics Content and Methods for Elementary School Teachers," class. The students who participate will earn service-learning credits, a requirement for graduation from Calvin.

"Usually about half of my students will go out and work with a school," Koop says. "They're just itching to get out into a classroom; that's where they want to be. And if they're not doing it, it's because they’re doing so much service learning in their other classes."

This is the second collaboration between Calvin and the GRPS funded by an "Improving Teacher Quality Grant." Last year, a $179,000 grant allowed Calvin education professor James Rooks to pioneer a program to support the Four Block literacy model-the GRPS' adopted method of teaching reading and writing.

~written by media relations staff writer Myrna Anderson