Math Education Researchers Awarded $1 Million

Researchers in UA’s College of Arts and Sciences and College of Education were recently awarded a $1 million grant to develop “co-teaching” teams of public school teachers in the Tuscaloosa area. The grant is from the Math-Science Partnership through the United States Department of Education and Alabama Department of Education and provides for three years of professional development activities for the teachers.

The first group, which includes teachers in the Tuscaloosa County School system, will begin professional development activities in November. Additional cohorts will include other teachers in the region through the UA/University of West Alabama In-Service Center, which provides professional learning and growth opportunities to teachers and administrators in nine counties in West Alabama.

“The unique thing about this project is that we are focusing on co-teaching, or teachers working collaboratively in the classroom to help all students to improve,” said Dr. Jim Gleason, principal investigator of the grant and an associate professor in UA’s department of mathematics. “The grant will focus on getting general education teachers and special education teachers to collaborate more and work together as a team to help all students, but especially special education students.”

The goals of the project are to increase content knowledge of K-12 faculty, particularly special education teachers, in order to decrease the mathematics achievement gap of special education students. Additionally, project coordinators aim to improve critical thinking skills of all students and encourage collaboration between teachers.

Participating teachers will be taught to use differentiated or individualized instruction and to focus on teaching problem-solving skills in hopes of improving student learning. The project will be assessed by researchers in UA’s Institute for Social Science Research.

“Generally, in middle and high schools, the special education teachers aren’t as strong in all the content areas,” said Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski, program coordinator of UA’s secondary math education program. “They’re not trained in all of that; they’re trained in how to better reach the students. And generally, special education and subject teachers don’t have a chance to sit and plan together. We’ll address both through this grant.”

The grant is similar to another MSP project, funded three years ago, in which area teachers participated in professional development sessions, particularly important at the time as new mathematics standards were being implemented statewide.

The project comes at no costs to the school. The grant covers costs of substitute teachers and teacher stipends for participation in the summer, in addition to instructional costs for program coordinators.

The grant bridges multiple departments on UA’s campus: the UA math department with Gleason, who will serve as principal investigator of the grant; elementary and secondary math education with Zelkowski and Drs. Stefanie Livers and Kristin Harbour; special education with Drs. Kevin Besnoy and Sara McDaniel; and Dr. Terri Boman and other specialists at the In-Service Center and the Alabama Math, Science and Technology Initiative.

“This partnership provides special education teachers and regular education teachers in our system the opportunity to collaborate in planning, implementing and monitoring true co-teaching models, so that all students benefit from those teachers’ combined skills and knowledge,” said Dr. Amanda Cassity, director of curriculum and instruction within the Tuscaloosa County School System. “We are excited about working with UA, the In-service Center and AMSTI to make a real impact on student learning.”