Experts agree that a solid math foundation opens doors for future possibilities, yet improvement in math outcomes has proven an elusive target for states across the country. Innovation is necessary, and the Mountain State is poised to lead the way.
With the aid of a six-year, $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services, educators and researchers will work together to improve math teaching and learning through developing teacher leaders in secondary schools (grades six through 12) across West Virginia.
The project, titled "Mountaineer Mathematics Master Teachers," will select and support 40 secondary math teachers across West Virginia to participate as "master teaching fellows."
"The goal of this project is to identify exemplary math teachers from across the state to support and empower them to lead efforts to improve math teaching and learning," said Matthew Campbell, assistant professor of secondary mathematics education and principal investigator on the project.
"We will be able to learn a lot about developing teacher leaders through this project, all while collectively making an impact across the state."
A first cohort of 19 fellows, representing 17 school districts across the state, is currently being finalized, with work to begin this fall. Applications for a second cohort will be invited in early 2021.
Core to the project is an approach to the collaborative improvement of math teaching developed in Pocahontas County Schools, led by math coach Joanna Burt-Kinderman. Eighth and 11th grade math scores in Pocahontas County grew from the middle of the pack to amongst the highest in math proficiency in West Virginia. In fact, Pocahontas County eighth graders are on par with Massachusetts, which boasts the highest math proficiency in the country.
Burt-Kinderman, a co-investigator on the project, calls it "problematizing math teaching."
This approach to innovating math teaching sounds rather simple, though the execution requires a dose of open-endedness and patience: Collectively, teachers identify and solve the pitfalls of existing teaching methods, treat math as a problem-solving process beyond memorization and uplift the power of teacher collaboration.
"I moved back to West Virginia about 10 years ago after having wonderful professional opportunities in other states," said Burt-Kinderman, MS '15, Higher Education Teaching and Learning. "I was dreaming of a different way to do teacher improvement work, to help teachers improve, allow them to innovate and lead, acknowledge their expertise, and in so doing, encourage them to stay in West Virginia schools. "
Campbell met Burt-Kinderman while she was completing her graduate studies at WVU. After an opportunity to visit math classrooms in Pocahontas County, Campbell saw the value in Burt-Kinderman's philosophy and work. Burt-Kinderman appreciated Campbell's research-based perspective and his respect for the often-overlooked knowledge and perspective of educators in schools.
Together, the two have collaborated to bring these ideas to scale. Their early efforts have been supported by previous funding from the NSF and the Benedum Foundation. This latest NSF grant provides an opportunity for a new level of impact.
"Mathematics is not just doing computations on a worksheet. It's about engaging collectively, reasoning, arguing and making sense of problems," Campbell said. "We need to collectively identify what is preventing that vision and what might be possible for realizing it.
"Our state's best teachers should be at the center of that effort. And positioning them as leaders is a way to keep good teachers in West Virginia classrooms instead of having them leave for one reason or another."
Each fellow will be provided with a $10,000 stipend annually for their five-year commitment to the project, which includes continued work as a math teacher in West Virginia and taking on roles as a teacher leader as part of project activities.
Fellows will work as a network to identify and solve specific problems in their own classrooms and share that learning. They will also lead improvement efforts with teachers in their local school or district context. By the end of the project, fellows will be supported to mentor other emerging teacher leaders across the state.
The West Virginia Department of Education, which has provided an additional financial commitment, is a core partner in the project, helping realize the statewide focus.
In addition to Campbell and Burt-Kinderman, the M3T project team includes Jessica Deshler, co-PI, professor of mathematics; Ela Celikbas, co-PI, assistant professor of mathematics; Johnna Bolyard, associate professor of mathematics education; Renee LaRue, teaching assistant professor of mathematics; and Gay Stewart, director of the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education.
In addition to supporting fellowship activities, the project team will research the impacts of the project on teacher retention, teacher leadership development, teacher and administrator satisfaction, and student achievement in mathematics.
More information on the M3T project, and on the fellowship application process, can be found at https:/