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  • PREPARING ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS-SCIENCE TEACHING SPECIALISTSAuthor(s): L. Diane MillerSource: The Arithmetic Teacher, Vol. 40, No. 4 (DECEMBER 1992), pp. 228-231Published by: National Council of Teachers of MathematicsStable URL: .Accessed: 13/06/2014 00:53

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    L Diane Miller

    Curriculum and Evaluation Stan- dards for School Mathematics "expresses the consensus of profes-

    sionals in the mathematical sciences for the direction of school mathematics in the next decade" (NCTM 1989, vi). It represents a response to the call for reform in the teach- ing and learning of mathematics. As one familiar with the preparation of elementary school teachers examines the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards, a sense of doom pervades the otherwise enthusiastic atti- tude toward the reform represented by the document. Many practicing and prospec- tive teachers are not adequately prepared to meet the challenge of implementing the curriculum standards.

    Everybody Counts (National Research Council 1989), a precursor to the Curricu- lum and Evaluation Standards (NCTM 1989), is a report of an examination of U.S. mathematics education from kindergarten through graduate study. It substantially documents a need to revitalize mathemat- ics and science education in the schools. Its section on teaching recognizes a problem inherent in implementing the curriculum standards at the elementary school level: "The United States is one of the few coun- tries in the world that continues to pre- tend - despite substantial evidence to the contrary - that elementary school teach- ers are able to teach all subjects equally well" (p. 64).

    The NCTM's position statement Math- ematics Leaders in Elementary/ Middle Schools (March 1984) acknowledges that a key component of the improvement of

    Diane Miller teaches at Texas Tech University, Lub- bock, TX 79409-1071. In addition to supporting the use of elementary mathematics-science teaching spe- cialists, she is interested in how teachers implement the mathematics curriculum and assess students understanding.


    Specialists taught with concrete materials and discovery types of activities.

    instruction in elementary and middle school mathematics is the provision of stronger mathematics leaders at individual schools. Dossey ( 1 984) reiterates the importance of employing mathematics specialists in our nation's elementary schools and encour- ages the mathematics and mathematics education community to speak out "with a loud voice to schools, teacher education institutions, and state agencies on the mer- its of, and need for, such teachers."

    Let's not doom implementation of the standards to failure and place an unfair burden on experienced elementary school teachers by asking them to implement teach- ing strategies with which they are unfamil-

    iar and introduce mathematical content for which they are inadequately prepared. It is time to identify people with special inter- ests in mathematics who are willing to continue their professional development toward becoming better prepared to teach the mathematics content outlined in the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards by using a student-centered, discovery-based approach.

    The National Science Board Commis- sion on Precollege Education in Mathemat- ics, Science and Technology argued the case for using subject teaching specialists in Educating Americans for the Twenty- first Century (1983). An excerpt from the document (p. 8) suggests one model for imple- menting elementary-level specialization.

    We hope the commission will encourage school systems to reassign interested teachers at the 4-6 grade level to become specialists at teaching math- ematics or other disciplines. One model might be a simple trade of classes between teachers with each teacher concentrating in areas of particular interest and competence. The needed changes in subject mat- ter emphasis will be much easier to effect if those actually teaching any subject are selected for their special interests and aptitudes. Special inservice train- ing programs should be developed for all such semi- specialized teachers, whatever their subject.


    Lets identify special interest in


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  • Many elementary school teachers al- ready have the interest in, and enthusiasm for, subject specialization and are willing to continue their professional development toward filling the role of specialist through summer institutes. In mathematics, these institutes should be designed to address changes in pedagogy and to include both learning higher mathematics at an advanced level and revisiting the content of school mathematics (NCTM 1991, 169). Elemen- tary and middle school teachers of math- ematics "should know and understand mathematics substantially beyond that which they may be expected to teach, and they should have knowledge and compe- tence in the methods and techniques appro- priate for effectively teaching mathematics to elementary/middle school students" (NCTM 1984).

    A Case Study An example of elementary school teachers


    willingness and enthusiasm for becoming content teaching specialists is seen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Fourth- and fifth-grade teachers and principals in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system were surveyed to ascertain their agreement or disagree- ment with using subject teaching special- ists. About three-fourths of the 1 56 teachers responding believed that under suitable conditions of specially designed in-service training, a mathematics-science specialist would improve the quality of students' performance in the two subjects. The remainder were either undecided (24) or disagreed (11). About two-thirds of the teachers said they would consider volun- teering to become a mathematics-science teaching specialist. About one half of the teachers said they would consider committing themselves to a three-year professional-development project to be- come the mathematics-science teaching specialist for their grade level.

    The teachers surveyed had been teach- ing at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels for an average of seven years. Over 90 percent said those were the grade levels of their choice, and most had completed about two college-level courses in mathematics and two college-level courses in each of the physical and life sciences. More than one half of the teachers had at least a master's degree.

    Forty of forty-one principals surveyed

    DECEMBER 1992

    reported that grades 4 and 5 in their schools used generalist teachers in self-contained classrooms. All principals except one (undecided) agreed that well-prepared mathematics-science specialists would improve the quality of students' perfor- mance in the two subjects. Only about one- third of the principals, however, agreed that without appropriate training, the use of subject specialists would improve perfor- mance. (The survey did not ask principals to speculate on the influence mathematics- science teaching specialists would have on

    For three academic years, the mathemat- ics-science teaching specialists attended monthly in-service meetings that focused on topics in elementary-level mathematics and science. For three summers, the teach- ers participated in a six- week institute at the university in which they enrolled in a math- ematics course, a science course, and a teaching-methodology course. The strand unifying the various topics examined throughout the professional-development component was a new approach to teaching and learning. Rather than teach mathemat-

    students' attitudes toward these subjects. However, feedback from teachers and principals in the model reported in this article indicates that significant improve- ments in students' attitudes toward math- ematics and science have resulted.) Most principals surveyed thought that their schools had teachers at the fourth- and fifth-grade levels who would make good mathematics-science teaching specialists with proper preparation.

    A Teaching Model After contemplating the results of this survey and the various reports calling for reform in mathematics and science education, educators from Louisiana State University and personnel from the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board decided to implement an experimental, semispecialist teaching model in fifteen schools involving thirty fourth- and fifth- grade teachers. Each school was respon- sible for designing a daily routine in which students rotated between teaching special- ists. Some schools


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