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Improving Teacher Quality

Improving teacher quality: BGSU faculty create pathways to change 

In response to the changing landscape of education, teachers need to change the way they teach. BGSU science and mathematics faculty are creating pathways for this change by modeling best practices.

BGSU College of Education and Human Development faculty have received four Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) state grants from the Ohio Board of Regents, totaling more than $385,000.

Although each program is unique in its structure, they share a common goal to help teachers make better sense of the content and learn more about best practices to impact they way they are teaching. 

The purpose of the ITQ grant program, funded under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, is to increase the academic achievement of all students by helping high-need school districts by providing high-quality professional development for elementary, middle and high school teachers of mathematics and science.

The two science and two mathematics grants funded this year are in fact continuations of programs supported last year:

Science

  • Science Teaching Advancement Through Modeling Physical Science III (STAMPS III)
  • Partnerships in Inquiry Resources and Research THREE (Project pi r-squared THREE)

Math

  • Common Core for Reasoning and Sense Making: Elementary (CO2RES Elementary)
  • Common Core for Reasoning and Sense Making: Secondary ((CO)2RES Secondary)

"I think it's important we provide a forum for teachers to be able to expand their pedagogy skills, expand their content knowledge and really see what's happening with best practices," said science education faculty member Dr. Tracy Huziak-Clark, principal investigator for STAMPS III. "Once you leave undergrad and maybe even when you leave your master's program, you may not see newest best practices again. So this is one way, one model, for helping interested classroom teachers learn and practice best practices."

"I think most of us are going to just change the way we teach any topic, any lesson or concept just from what we've seen and practiced." In its third year of funding, STAMPS III is not only bringing in a new group of 24 teachers this spummer, but also welcoming back a year-two cohort of 15 participants from the previous two years to design curriculum by implementing the content and pedagogy learned in year one.

Through word of mouth and proven success, STAMPS I and II received 75 applications. Other grants are experiencing a similar high level of interest, both from partner school districts as well as individuals seeking to grow.

A participant from last year's CO2RES Elementary program said, "I feel this experience has been invaluable. I think everybody should have the opportunity to take this course before they try to implement the standards because I know that the other people in my building aren't going to implement it the way I'm going to because of the benefit of this program."

The CO2RES Elementary and (CO)2RES Secondary programs are offering much-needed clarification of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) adopted by Ohio in 2010. Although the standards have been in existence for several years, mathematics teachers are coming into the professional development programs with a foggy understanding of expectations.

"These standards are not new names for old ways of doing business, so really there is a change here in what's happening in mathematics education. Not just math - education," said Dr. Gabriel Matney, an associate professor of mathematics education and principal investigator for CO2RES Elementary.

To clarify the standards and expectations, CO2RES Elementary and (CO)2RES Secondary begin their programs with discussions about what sense-making and reasoning are and the eight standards for mathematical practices.

Gaining a better understanding of what is expected of them and their students has teachers excited to plan. Reflecting on the program, one participant remarked, "The experience has been overwhelming, favorably. There's just a lot of information. And I guess the expectation was greater than what I thought - which is good, because I came in here wanting to know more about the Common Core, and what I could do to help my students. And I knew that I needed to make changes to my teaching style and my practices. This really opened my eyes to how big this really is. The changes I will have to make are more than what I expected."

A participant in last year's (CO)2RES Secondary program shared similar experiences. One teacher remarked, "I think most of us are going to just change the way we teach any topic, any lesson or concept just from what we've seen and practiced."

The modeling approach that STAMPS III takes is very different from the traditional way teachers were taught. "The modeling approach actually credits questioning and inquiry, and focuses on students designing their own investigations given certain parameters," said Huziak-Clark.

The way Huziak-Clark and Dr. John Laird, a professor of physics and astronomy and co-principal investigator of STAMPS III, define a model by asking students to provide a description of what they observe mathematically, pictorially and verbally.

"When students explain a model in three ways, it helps increase their ability to conceptually understand and addresses more of the learning styles of students so it's recognized as a best practice for teaching physical science. However, it is not how most science teachers were traditionally taught to teach physical science, so for them it's really new and eye-opening to think about the way they teach, which really makes it exciting for them and us," said Huziak-Clark.

Teachers deidcate more than 100 hours to these rigorous programs, but with big commitment come big rewards. Teachers earn a stipend, BGSU graduate credit and materials for their classroom. More importantly, they are walking away with enriching lesson plans and a new-found confidence.

"Districts who participated in last year's (CO)2RES Secondary reported their teachers felt it was helpful, they felt more efficacious. They learned about the Common Core, practice standards and content standards, and so those districts, when asked about this year, immediately signed up again," said Dr. Jonathan Bostic, an assistant professor of mathematics education, principal investigator for (CO)2RES Secondary and co-PI of (CO2RES).

Following the professional development programs, teachers from all four projects confidently presented at the NWO Symposium on STEM Teaching.

Members of Project pi r-squared THREE will also lead inquiry-based, hands-on activities at STEM in the Park, a community event that unites STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) faculty scientists, community partners, teachers, students and their families for a day of hands-on activities to increase awareness of the importance of STEM learning in the future of Ohio.

The Project pi r-squared THREE project culminates with every teacher and their students leading a Science Expo in their school wherein students will facilitate inquiry-based STEM activities for other teachers and students in their school as well as parents and administrators.

BGSU faculty are sharing their knowledge and findings, too. In fact, Matney and Bostic presented at the Research Council on Mathematics Learning in Tulsa, Okla., over spring break.

Though each program has varying objectives and outcomes, one common result that's evident throughout the data collected is that teachers are committed to changing the way they teach - and BGSU faculty are influencing this change.

 (Posted March 11, 2013 )