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Mathematics Partnership lets students gain teaching experience

Falcon News Service

November 5, 2015

A partnership allowing mathematics students to gain teaching experience has started at UW-River Falls, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Mathematical Progressions Through Habits of Mind is a partnership between UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire and 12 school districts in Wisconsin. The partnership aims to help K-12 teachers implement the national Common Core math practice standards in their classrooms. The participating school districts range from New Auburn to Durand.

In the partnership, eight UWRF students act as math education teaching apprentices, which involves helping in the classroom and attending seminars with participating teachers. The students’ experience levels range from none to current student teachers.

Kristina O’Brien is one of the students participating in the partnership. She said that she has already learned a lot about the Common Core standards, even though the partnership only started in September.

“The first day, we had to fill out a survey about which ones we knew, and I got to leave it blank, because I had no clue,” O’Brien said. “So it’s been really helpful in that respect.”

Erick Hofacker, associate professor of mathematics, is one of four principal investigators in the partnership. Hofacker, Kathryn Ernie and Susan Ahrendt of UWRF and Sherrie Serros of UWEC travel to seminars around the state and occasionally observe the teachers in their classrooms.

Hofacker said that the combination of classroom time and seminar attendance gives students a unique opportunity to progress their professional development before graduation.

“Even practicing teachers don’t always get the opportunity to be involved in professional development,” Hofacker said.

Paige Jones also works as a teaching apprentice in the partnership. She said that the apprentices are paid and do not receive academic credit for their participation, but the experience is enough.

“It’s nothing that an education course could probably give you, so even though I’m not receiving any credit, it’s still worth it for sure,” Jones said.

Jones said that the Common Core focuses on how learning progresses as students move from elementary to high school. The standards teach students how to solve problems in multiple ways while relating the material to previous coursework, but not everyone agrees with that style of teaching. Jones said that her own family is sometimes confused by it.

“So I have to clarify and I have to ask them, ‘Why don’t you like it?’” Jones said. “And every time it comes down to, ‘Because it’s different. It’s different than how I learned it.’”

Jones said that the standards promote conceptual fluency rather than procedural fluency, meaning that students consistently review what they’ve already learned and learn how to apply the methods to other problems. She said that may be the reason that some people are confused by the Common Core practices.

“There’s just so many different methods nowadays for solving a task that people, if they don’t recognize it, think it’s wrong,” Jones said. “And it’s not necessarily wrong.”

According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s website, 42 of the states have adopted the standards in both English and mathematics.

Minnesota is one of the states that has not approved the Common Core standards, but Jones said she thinks that teachers in Minnesota could benefit from researching them.

“You should really still be implementing the math practice standards because they can be valuable in any lesson plan,” Jones said.

The project is funded by the federal Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant program. Hofacker said that he expects it to last three years. This academic year is focused on ratios and proportions, fractions and functions. Next year will center on algebraic thinking, and the final year will focus on statistics and probability.

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