Vail Valley Voices: School district aims to improve math, science teaching |

Vail Valley Voices: School district aims to improve math, science teaching

Sandra B. Smyser
Vail, CO, Colorado

President Obama recently announced a new $250 million initiative aimed at improving science and mathematics instruction.

The Washington Post reports the public-private effort is designed to help the nation compete with global economic rivals in key fields.

The program will utilize funding from high-tech businesses, universities and foundations to prepare more than 10,000 new math and science school teachers over a five-year period.

It will also provide on-the-job training for an additional 100,000 science, technology, engineering and math teachers.

Government and business leaders have been sounding the alarm over science and math education in recent years as concern has grown that the U.S. may be losing the technological edge that once fueled its economy.

International math testing in 2007 found U.S. fourth-graders trailed their counterparts in some areas of Europe and Asia, while U.S. eighth-graders lagged behind those from a handful of Asian nations. Similar results were found in science.

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In response to a need for improved instruction and increased student receptiveness in certain subject areas, Eagle County Schools was one of three school districts to be awarded $350,000 per year for three years to provide professional development for math teachers in grades 1-12.

This Colorado Department of Education award, with funding coming from the U.S. Department of Education, was given to Eagle County Schools in collaboration with the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education unit at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, along with the CORE Math Academy, based in Berkeley, Calif.

Math Partnership Coordinator and Instructional Coach Kristen Bunn recently joined the Eagle County Schools team in order to provide direct support to the Math Partnership associates (UC Colorado Springs and CORE) and brings with her an impressive background, which includes a bachelor’s degree in psychology and political science from Colgate University, a master’s degree in elementary education with an emphasis on aesthetics, and a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction/educational policy from the University of Denver.

The Eagle County Schools Math Science Partnership program will randomly select teachers to participate in one of three years of the project to increase teacher knowledge and instructional practices specific to mathematics, increase student math achievement, enhance teacher professional learning communities related to math and increase collaboration among the school district and its institute of higher education partners.

Implementing problem-solving and critical-thinking skills will be a strong focus.

Recognizing that we are dealing with children, the program will also instruct teachers on how to have fun with numbers and, in turn, pass that enjoyment onto their students so that not only are they becoming exceptionally skilled in mathematics, but they are also enjoying it.

Professional development provided by Eagle County Schools’ partners is already being offered monthly to all randomly selected teachers and integrated into continuing professional development provided by tghe district.

Student achievement will be measured and connected to specific teacher performance to identify changes over time for both students and teachers.

UC Colorado Springs facilitators from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education have already begun work with a 30-member cohort of Eagle Scounty Schools teachers and will continue through the month of June.

Each year, a new teacher cohort is developed with an end result of 90 teachers receiving seven days professional development training.

The program will be closely monitored by both CSTEME and Eagle County Schools administrators. Measures such as student achievement will be evaluated by the school distrit, while CSTEME will evaluate teacher confidence in using the problem solving strategies discussed.

The evaluations will lead to improvements in the training with the goal of eventually sharing it with other school districts in Colorado.

Eagle County Schools is excited about the potential of this grant, as it supports one of our foundational beliefs that students must have a strong grasp on the fundamentals reading, writing, math and science) in order for them to compete in an ever-changing global world.

Sandra B. Smyser, Ph.D, is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools.

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