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Fundamental changes in math education goal of new program of UC Berkeley Education School
01 November 2001

By Kathleen Maclay, Media Relations

Berkeley - The University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Education and the Berkeley Unified School District are joining a nationwide effort to revitalize the teaching of mathematics to an increasingly diverse student population.

The project comes about via the National Science Foundation (NSF), which is awarding $11.5 million to a five-year consortium of mathematics and education faculty. Partners in that effort, "Diversity in Mathematics Education," include UC Berkeley, UCLA, the California Subject Matter Project, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Funding for UC Berkeley is $3.4 million.

Overall, the NSF is spending $100 million across the country to boost mathematics teaching and leadership through two prototype programs launched in the past fiscal year, and through three new programs over the next five years, including the one to which UC Berkeley belongs.

The consortium that includes UC Berkeley will explore developmental aspects of children's algebraic thinking and differences in how they learn math. The program will look for ways to improve teaching diverse student populations algebra, considered a gatekeeper course that determines if students pursue advanced math and science.

"The project will create new research, new tools and more importantly, a generation of researchers capable of making significant strides on issues of diversity in mathematics education," said Rogers Hall, an associate professor of education at UC Berkeley and an associate director of the new consortium.

"If we are successful, the field will be changed fundamentally by this new generation of scholars," said Hall.

The NSF and others are concerned that a third of mathematics teachers in grades 7-12 have neither a major nor minor in the field, yet teach one in four of all mathematics students.

Further, the human resources for training new mathematics teachers are dwindling. More than half the faculty in universities that grant doctoral degrees in mathematics education will be eligible for retirement in two years, and nearly 80 percent will be eligible in 10 years, according to the NSF.

Hall said one goal is for the consortium universities to reach a greater understanding of structural problems impeding equal access to effective math teaching.

Another goal, he said, is to produce 30 new leaders in math research and teaching, who will build on and expand our understanding of learning and teaching ideas of algebra with diverse student populations. Graduate student fellows are now being recruited for fall 2002 and core courses are being prepared.

Work is also underway to recruit experienced teachers from Berkeley Unified classrooms, who will work with UC Berkeley graduate fellows and pre-service teachers in the new program.

The consortium will create a library of case studies on the teaching and learning of math, along with software tools for analysis and a digital infrastructure to be shared by all researchers.

"We are attempting to rebuild the infrastructure of mathematics education research, to include a focus on professional development for both new and practicing teachers around issues of diversity such as language, social class, gender and ethnicity," Hall said.

"There will be new research, a new generation of researchers and teacher leaders, and a well-articulated model of how we have gone about this," he said.

Consortium participants from UC Berkeley will include professors Hall, Alan Schoenfeld, Geoffrey Saxe and Andrea diSessa of the Graduate School of Education.

Researchers at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Science will work with schools from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The University of Wisconsin will team up with the Madison Metropolitan School District.

The UC Berkeley portion of the consortium also will interact with the Lawrence Hall of Science and the UC Berkeley math department.