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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, manager,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

10-14-04

Contacts:

Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, College of Education, 515-294-0822

Cathy Curtis, College of Education, 515-294-8175

Kevin Brown, News Service, 515-294-8986

$600,000 education grant to study middle school math teaching, student interaction

AMES, Iowa -- An Iowa State University mathematics education and teaching researcher has received a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant for a five-year project to improve student learning in middle school mathematics.

Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, said about a dozen middle school mathematics teachers in central Iowa will be involved in the project. Herbel-Eisenmann and her research team will work collaboratively to implement changes in teacher/student interaction and study the subsequent impact on student learning, focusing on comprehension and conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas.

"I hope to be able to focus on middle school algebra classrooms," Herbel-Eisenmann said. "Algebra is typically viewed as a 'gatekeeper' course -- students who are successful in algebra have a greater chance of going on to college. Also, female student participation typically diminishes after middle school. This study may help us understand how to support student learning by focusing on how we use language in mathematics classrooms."

Teachers in the study will teach in ways recommended by the standards published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The standards describe the content and processes recommended for teaching and learning mathematics at all grade levels.

"One goal is to encourage teachers to engage students in different ways," she said. "We want students to do more than recite 'how' they solved a problem. They should be encouraged to conjecture and use mathematical reasoning, justification and argumentation. It is not easy for students to learn how to articulate those kinds of mathematical processes in powerful ways. Recent studies show that teachers learn how to do this better when they work collaboratively with other teachers and teacher educators."

Herbel-Eisenmann said research also indicates that students who are presented with real-life problems and use a variety of mathematical representations such as diagrams, pictures, graphs and tables to solve those problems retain and comprehend math concepts better.

In addition, the researchers will study the subtle ways teachers interact with and react to students, she said.

"We will study the linguistics (language) used in the classroom," Herbel-Eisenmann said. "Generally, people are unaware of their own speaking patterns and teachers may automatically fall into a subconscious teaching style that they experienced as students; they adopt a routine based on their personal experiences."

Another potential benefit of the research may be to show teachers that students from other cultures and ethnicities and low-income families may use different language patterns in their interactions at home and in their communities.

"Research has shown that interaction patterns in many classrooms are structured for Caucasian, middle-class students to learn," she said. "Some students may have to learn a whole new set of rules and routines when they come to school. What motivates them and helps them learn may be different."

At the end of the five-year grant, Herbel-Eisenmann said, the research will provide insight into teachers' development of different classroom practices, create a framework for studying middle school math classroom discussions and offer ways to help teachers focus on the role of mathematical language and processes in the classroom.

In addition, some of the information will be used in coursework with undergraduate, graduate, extension and continuing education programs in teacher education.

"Case studies will be written and shared with mathematics education researchers," Herbel-Eisenmann said. "Eventually, materials such as videos and other information will be available for people who are involved in professional development of teachers to use."

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Quick look

An Iowa State University mathematics education and teaching researcher has received a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant for a five-year project to improve student learning in middle school mathematics. Beth Herbel-Eisenmann, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in the College of Education, said about a dozen middle school mathematics teachers in central Iowa will be involved in the project. Herbel-Eisenmann and her research team will work collaboratively to implement changes in teacher/student interaction and study the subsequent impact on student learning, focusing on comprehension and conceptual understanding of mathematical ideas.

Quote

"One goal is to encourage teachers to engage students in different ways. We want students to do more than recite 'how' they solved a problem. They should be encouraged to conjecture and use mathematical reasoning, justification and argumentation."

Beth Herbel-Eisenmann