Governors State Awarded Grant to Make Common Core Math Simple
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced all lessons to be moved to remote platforms, exciting progress is being made in math education at Governors State University (GSU)
“The words ‘excitement’ and ‘math’ don’t always come out of a person’s mouth at the same time,” said Joi Patterson, Director of Educator Preparation at GSU. And that’s exactly what she and Professor Xiaobo She are working to change.
Governors State has received four grants from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) Foundation since 2012, totaling over $490,000, to support teacher education in mathematics by working with high-need, early childhood and elementary teachers to boost confidence, skill levels, and abilities to teach math.
The programs have been so successful, school districts are requesting additional training from GSU outside of the grant at their own expense.
At a recent CME Foundation meeting, where all grant recipients convened to discuss the importance of teaching math, Dr. She––a Mathematics Education professor––and Dr. Patterson reported the impact of the grants on the communities they’ve worked in. Currently, GSU is providing the grant funded program to eight elementary teachers from five schools in the Crete Monee Community Unit School Distict (201U).
The teachers are in their second semester of courses for elementary math content and classrrom teaching strategies. GSU professors originally traveled to their campus, and now online. The courses will eventually culminate in eighteen graduate math credits and a middle grade math endorsement, tuition free. The teachers will leave the program confident in common core math and as leaders in math education so that they may impart what they have learned to the other teachers at their respective schools.
Previous grants GSU received from the CME Foundation targeted earlier age groups, starting with mathematics education for three-to six-year-old children and progressing to the current grant that focuses on children in middle grades. To She, the program’s focus is essential for all elementary education teachers.
“There’s very little funding provided to improve math skills for children of this age and a lot of teachers still feel uncomfortable with common core. That’s why we focus on it,” She said.
Training the teachers at high-need schools affects more than just a classroom of children, it also touches their families and communities. To Patterson, this is the best way to close the academic achievement gap.
“If we teach the teachers, we sharpen the tool and increase their competency and comfort level. They can reach the masses and improve those students’ lives and their families’ lives over all. To not do this would mean leaving these students behind,” she said.
After a recent survey of the current grant participants, Patterson and She reported that motivation and excitement for the program is still high, which is pivotal in removing the stigma and negative bias in teaching and learning math.
The participants universally mentioned a new mindfulness that they’re bringing to their teaching, from being more reflective in their teaching strategies, to reviewing prerequisite skills students need to learn new concepts, and even questioning their own use of math and their adherence to “memorized formulas.” Their classes are feeling this change.
“The students are experiencing success and understanding the concepts more than previous classes I’ve taught,” said one participant.
But this success is deeper than just scoring well on tests.
“My class are better learners [now,]” said another participant.
Talia Milgrom-Elcott of 100kin10, a national network dedicated to creating 100,000 STEM teachers by 2021, presented at the CME Foundation meeting as well.
“Authentic and joyful are goals for all learning, but are especially critical for foundational math,” she said.
That's a goal GSU can confidently report it is acheiving.