Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How will it work?

I need your help. Due to circumstances beyond our control, the GVSU Department of Mathematics is looking at canceling two courses this fall semester. Teaching Middle Grades Mathematics [MTH 329] is required for undergraduates interested in teaching secondary mathematics (though some inservice teachers take it as part of adding an endorsement in mathematics to their certificate). Secondary Student Issues [MTH 629] is part of a College of Education's Masters of Education program. Because of the importance of these two courses to their respective planned programs, we are considering alternatives to canceling them.

One option is to combine the two courses in some way. This is of particular interest to me because of past successes with preservice and inservice teachers collaborating in MTH 329. As I said, we sometimes get inservice teachers taking this course for an endorsement, and I always try to include their perspective when discussing the realities of teaching and learning. I also connected 329 students with inservice teachers two years ago when a scheduling conflict meant that I needed to be teaching and conducting professional development at the same time. Participants report that the combined effect of preservice teachers' enthusiasm and inservice teachers' experience has been beneficial. 

All I need to do is come up with a proposal for how the combined course might work. My colleague, John Golden, and I sat down this morning to develop a draft, but I recognize that our plan would benefit from your feedback. Here's the idea:

Essentially, the content addressed will remain unchanged for MTH 329. The undergraduates in this course learn what it means to do, learn, and teach mathematics in the middle grades. In their course portfolio, they demonstrate their fluency of middle school-level mathematical content, their competencies in teaching and learning middle grade mathematics, and their ability to engage in their own learning.

Graduate students enrolled in MTH 629 will continue to focus on issues in teaching and learning secondary mathematics, but this will extend to mentoring the preservice teachers in mathematical pedagogy. The mentoring will involve supporting the undergraduates in the assessment and analysis of middle grade learners’ mathematical thinking and the design and implementation of mathematics micro-lessons. The graduate students’ portfolio will document their mentoring efforts, their results from an action research project, and their ability to engage in their own learning.

MTH 329 will meet from 6 to 7:50 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. MTH 629 will meet from 6 to 8:50 on Tuesdays. During the 6 to 7:50 overlap on Tuesdays, the class time will focus on developing a taken-as-shared understanding of pedagogical concepts through demonstrations, classroom dialogues, and collaborations. From 8 to 8:50 on Tuesdays, MTH 629 students will concentrate on aspects of effective mentoring and conducting action research that focuses on the artifacts of teaching (lessons and assessments). On Thursdays, the MTH 329 students will focus on the middle grades mathematical content typically addressed in this course.

It is my hope that this structure will help both groups to recognize that they can contribute to the positive development of the teaching profession. I want them to understand that they can improve teaching without having to wait for some outside force to tell them what that improvement would entail. In other words, I want to provide an experience that provides them with phronesis.

So what do you think? I really value your input in designing this combined course. Thank you in advance for your support.


  1. This sounds like a fantastic idea. I know that losing funding for courses (I'm assuming that's what happened) is frustrating, but I think this course is absolutely an awesome idea.

    Is there anyway that the 629 students can mentor the 329 students in action research? Perhaps they can do a joint research project? More teachers doing action research (or at least approaching their teaching in the reflective way that action research requires) would help a lot.

    1. David,
      Thanks for the suggests. I definitely see a place for the 329 students supporting 629 students' action research. Currently, I am leaning toward a lesson study approach. This would entail planning, observing, and debriefing about a lesson together. What do you think?

    2. I'm actually wondering the opposite, can the 329 students participate in action research, under the guidance of the 629 students?

      Lesson study is a good idea. It is a very easy to understand model of research, and very quickly provides dividends for both the observer and the observed.

    3. The 329 students typically conduct an evaluation of middle school students' thinking using the results from assessment interviews. This is part of a common project agreed upon by GVSU's Department of Mathematics and I am trying to adhere to it even under these circumstances. In the past, the inservice teachers have helped the preservice teachers to make sense of the results of the interviews. I am planning to use the same approach in this combined course.

      Thanks for your contributions.

  2. I hope this works out. I'll be interested in following along.

    I would worry that the 329 teachers might not have enough time to think about content issues.

    1. Yes, Sue. I was worried about the same thing. That was why I wanted to be sure they had a day to themselves to concentrate on the content. I never get to everything they "need" to know to teach middle school math content, but I hope I provide tools that they can use beyond my class.

  3. It's certainly an ambitious agenda -- looks great, hopefully you'll have enough time like Sue had mentioned. (Can we EVER have enough time though?) And now with the Common Core on the horizon, there'll be interst in seeing how the 8 practices take shape in the classroom. Look forward to more of your sharing on this, thanks!

    1. Thanks, Fawn. I started using the Common Core in 329 last semester, and it seemed to work well. You are right to focus on the Mathematical Practices as they probably represent what is most unfamiliar to both the preservice and inservice teachers.

  4. Can the 329s observe the 629s in their classrooms? Maybe using observation tools developed during your 329/629 collective time... and then you can tease apart and use the 629s' experience of being observed to talk about mentoring and the 329s' experience of observing to discuss content further?

    Random idea. Eager to hear more as details get fleshed out :)

    1. It's a great idea, Grace. There is some concern that the 629 teachers wont be in middle school math classrooms, which messes with our attempts to focus on the content at that level. But if we do the lesson study approach (as I shared with Dave) and focus on the Mathematical Practices (as Fawn suggested), then this just might work regardless of the 629 students' setting. I'll keep you updated as I move forward.

  5. First key issue is the ratio of 629 to 329 students. Presumably there are several 329s for each 629. This suggests organizing the 329s into groups with one or two 629s chairing them. Or it might be a 329 who was advanced in math paired with a 629.

    The second issue is how well the 329s did in Math 210.

    "MTH 210 - Communicating in Mathematics
    A study of proof techniques used in mathematics. Intensive practice in reading mathematics, expository writing in mathematics, and constructing and writing mathematical proofs. Mathematical content includes elementary logic, congruence arithmetic, set theory, functions, equivalence relations, and equivalence classes. Offered fall and winter semesters. Prerequisites: MTH 201 and WRT 150."

    A diagnostic test at start of 329 on this might then lead to some decisions on how to handle those who have a weak grasp of this.

    If there are extra 629 students, then they could be used to help the 329s who are weak in 210. These might be separate groups or some sort of catch up or extra work.

    This approach could also help 629s understand the link from 210 skills in preservice teachers to teaching middle students. This is a key issue for math education and for dealing with common core being rolled out nationwide. That could be made a focus for many of the 629s. That could help them get some exposure.

    A grant might be applied for on this from public or private sources with the 629s doing a major part of the work on drafting the grant application and then implementing it. This could be several years with each year's class of 629's participating in the grant at that stage.