To help establish a foundation of “highly qualified” teachers in core subjects by the end of the 2005-06 school year as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Concord Consortium has developed two new series of online professional development courses for elementary and secondary math instructors. The programs are available to teachers nationwide.

“This [initiative] is important, because NCLB requires all students [to] reach proficiency in the next decade,” said David Thomas, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). “To reach that goal, we need to offer teachers the tools they need to succeed in the classroom.”

The program was funded through ED’s “Ready to Teach” grant initiative and created in partnership with TeachScape and PBS Teacherline.

Called Seeing Math, the web-based courses are designed to bridge the gap between teachers and struggling students in elementary and secondary math classrooms. As its name suggests, the program hopes to eradicate the stares of student bewilderment that often occur when teachers fail to teach challenging concepts clearly.

“Professional development is critical both to improve teachers’ content knowledge and also to improve teachers’ abilities to teach students,” said Tom Blanford, associate director for teacher quality at the National Education Association. “Teachers, like other professionals, want to continue to develop and refine their skills and effectiveness. Changing technologies and changing demographics require teachers to continually update and develop their skills.”

The online courses are accessible on the Concord Consortium’s web site, www.concord.org, where teachers are invited to use the interactive software for two subjects at no cost. The five-week secondary-series summer courses cost $199, while elementary-series courses range in price because they are sold directly to school districts. Additional courses will be released by the fall. Graduate credit also is available.

The Seeing Math elementary series, made available by TeachScape, offers 11 courses in subjects such as geometry, fractions, division with remainders, and data analysis and probability. The secondary series, made available by PBS Teacherline, also offers 11 courses centered primarily on algebra, in addition to other topics such as proportional reasoning and linear and quadratic functions.

“The subjects were … chosen for things that were difficult for students to understand, and curriculum materials were used that we knew helped teachers in the past,” said Joanna Lu, managing director of the Seeing Math Telecommunications Project.

The Seeing Math program was designed to intertwine web-based learning with face-to-face education. The goal was to give teachers, no matter where they teach, access to proven teaching tactics and high-quality models of instruction.

In addition to discussing concepts and strategies in online community groups, participants in the program can watch videos of actual classes before teaching the same lessons in their own classrooms.

Through this passive absorption of knowledge, the hope is that teachers will gain ideas for how to construct their own lesson plans. After watching the teachers’ method in the video, each participating instructor can decide whether to use similar or contrasting methods in his or her own classroom–and some might even form hybrid lesson plans from watching multiple classes, organizers said.

“These courses reach a broader audience any time during the day, so they break through the traditional barriers that require [teachers] to be in a classroom within a certain timeframe to get the training they need to succeed in the classroom,” explained ED’s Thomas regarding the value of online courses.

To ensure that the video courses were truly representative of American classrooms, the consortium made a concerted effort to select a diverse group of classrooms from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We were looking for teachers who were good and had taught the curriculum with that age range for a while,” said Raymond Rose, vice president of the Concord Consortium. “We did not want Disneyland teachers.”

“We really wanted our course participants to be able to relate with the day-to-day problems that everyone faces,” added Lu.

The program contains three central components that teachers can use to develop more effective teaching strategies. Participants start by focusing on the math content and working through the problems themselves. The idea, according to program developers, is to help teachers understand the frustrations their students often feel as they wrestle with the problems.

The second phase points out common misconceptions that students sometimes have as they attempt to overcome barriers to learning. For example, in a linear functions problem where a student must analyze data and make an appropriate recommendation, a teacher would observe, in the form of video, how students solve the problem similar to the one he or she just worked on and how they ended up with their answers. Afterwards, the teacher watches another video of an expert in the subject discuss ways to avoid difficulties with this type of problem in the classroom.

“A lot of teachers are used to symbolic approaches, but we put a huge emphasis in our interactives [on] showing simultaneous and multiple representations,” Lu said. “It’s shown as a graph, a table, a chart; modify one representation and others change. It’s not the usual cause and effect.”

After viewing videos of different classes and lessons, the teachers are encouraged to reflect on their current curriculum, organizing insights and comparing thoughts with other teachers in the program. Facilitator guides are also used to help teachers pick out important issues and promote interaction and analysis among participants.

“In mathematics education, participation in a professional development program can inform a teacher about research related to a particular instructional practice and how to apply what has been learned through the research to enhance that instructional practice,” said Monique Lynch, director of professional development programs and services for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Links:

The Concord Consortium
http://www.concord.org

Seeing Math
http://www.seeingmath.concord.org

U.S. Department of Education
http://www.ed.gov

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
http://www.nctm.org

Teachscape
http://www.teachscape.com

PBS Teacherline
http://www.pbs.org/teacherline

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org