NSF Grant, UA to Provide Boost to Tuscaloosa-Area Math Educators

jim gleason works with tuscaloosa math teacher

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The National Science Foundation has awarded The University of Alabama a $2.85 million grant to strengthen content knowledge, teaching practice and leadership among math teachers in the greater Tuscaloosa area.

Of the total funding, nearly 70 percent is direct support to teachers selected to participate.

UA researchers are recruiting full-time math teachers in grades six through 12 to participate in the “Master Teacher Fellowship,” an up to six-year program incentivized by compensated professional development, annual salary supplements of $12,575 for full participation, and paid tuition toward a master’s degree or educational specialist degree.

Teachers will also receive travel support to state and national conferences along with technology for their classrooms, which is supported by an additional in-kind contribution from Texas Instruments valued at $400,000.

The program has five goals for its participants:

  • Become instructional experts in schools and districts
  • Increase mathematical knowledge to lead professional development in schools and districts
  • Serve in leadership roles in schools and districts, either as mentors to other teachers, instructional coaches, or other leadership opportunities to improve student outcomes
  • Assist in building a network for high-quality clinical experiences for teacher candidates
  • Learn and emerge to enter leadership roles with the Alabama Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual fall forum and national conferences

“This grant is unprecedented in our region and provides mathematics teachers with a career changing opportunity in which they are fully supported both professionally and financially for the commitments of their precious time and expertise,” said Dr. Jeremy Zelkowski, coordinator of UA’s secondary math education program. “We are honored to have received this grant from the National Science Foundation to transform the next decade-plus of mathematics teaching and learning to support our local schools and students.”

The first cohort will be admitted June 2019 and seeks teachers with an Alabama Class-B grades 6-12 mathematics teaching license to begin their master’s degree program and a Class-A certificate. The second cohort begins in June 2020 for teachers who already possess a master’s degree. Twenty-four fellowships will be funded between the two cohorts.

Teachers who are interested will submit a complete application packet, including aspects of their careers in which they’d like to excel and take on leadership roles that can be performed in the classroom. More information can be found at the project’s startup website:

By the third year of the grant, researchers hope participants will have become national board certified, a distinction that includes a pay raise and salary supplements and recognizes teachers for their dedication to improve practice and student outcomes, Zelkowski said.

The program also aims to strengthen administrator buy-in so that they can support implementation, both in accommodating participants’ schedules and observing teachers’ progress during the span of the grant.

Planning sessions with teachers for this program began 10 months ago, as researchers gauged interest in the program and collected teacher input for how graduate credits would be applied. Zelkowski and co-principal investigator Dr. Jim Gleason had built previous relationships with math teachers in the area through various professional development programs, research and service programs funded by the NSF and U.S. Department of Education. Those connections strengthened UA’s grant proposal, as nearly 30 teachers attended the first three focus groups and provided input for the project’s design.

“My instinct tells me that there’s another 15-20 teachers out there that we have not had the pleasure to work with in professional settings or previous grants,” Zelkowski said. “So, we’re hoping our partnerships with Tuscaloosa City and County schools will help us make many more new connections with math teachers during this recruitment process.”

The Master Teacher Fellowship is one of four tracks funded by the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, a national STEM education initiative of the NSF. The program’s goal is to attract and retain STEM teachers by incentivizing undergraduate and advanced STEM degrees and teaching certifications.