PREPARING ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS-SCIENCE TEACHING SPECIALISTS

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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: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41195318 .Accessed: 13/06/2014 00:53

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  • PREPARING ELEMENTARY MATHEMATICS-SCIENCE

    TEACHING SPECIALISTS

    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.

    228

    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.

    ARITHMETIC TEACHER

    Lets identify special interest in

    mathematics.

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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 having three fourth- grade and three fifth-grade teachers chose to form teaching triads in which one teacher was responsible for instruction in math- ematics and science. Smaller schools formed teaching diads in which one person assumed the responsibility for teaching mathematics and science.

    Funding for the professional-develop- ment component of the project was sup- plied by the National Science Foundation.

    ics solely as a collection of memorized facts and the manipulation of symbols, teachers were encouraged to use concrete materials, cooperative groups, and student- centered, discovery types of activities. A view of the learner as an empty container being filled with knowledge was replaced by a vision of the learner as an active participant in constructing meaningful bridges between prior knowledge and new information. The calculator as a tool for completing tedious computations and ex- ploring number-pattern relationships was also introduced into every mathematics- science classroom.

    Advantages for Teachers The advantages of using subject specialists in the upper-elementary grades are numer- ous. The following six advantages are evident in the Louisiana project.

    Teachers have the opportunity to teach in areas of their interest, talent, and training. Many people enter elementary education feeling more confident and bet- ter prepared t teach one subject than an- other. However, generalists are asked to set aside their preferences and teach every subject as if it were their field of interest and strength. Unfortunately for students, it is humanly impossible for one person to be strong in every school subject and to con- tinue her or his professional growth in content and pedagogy in every field. Given the opportunity, elementary school teach-

    M9

    Students rotated between specialists.

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  • ers in the Louisiana district identified their areas of interest and strengths and volun- teered to teach only those subjects. In a couple of schools, both teachers at one grade level wanted to become the math- ematics-science teaching specialist. In an- other school, both teachers wanted to shy away from becoming the mathematics- science teaching specialist. The principals offered to allow the teachers to change schools so they could teach their preferred subjects. The teachers decided to flip a coin to decide their areas of specialization rather than change schools. However, the oppor- tunity to specialize in an area of their interest was possible because several schools in the district were implementing the model. Other factors dictated the reso- lution to the problem.

    Fewer content preparations allow teach- ers to develop more thorough lesson plans. Comments from a questionnaire completed by the subject specialists support this asser- tion. One teacher said that the quality of her planning was better because she didn't feel rushed to move on to prepare four other lessons. Another said, "With fewer lesson plans to prepare, more effort goes into doing a better job on the ones you do." "I Have more time to plan student-centered activities, to think about teaching strate- gies, and to organize a unit more thor- oughly when I have fewer preps to do" paraphrases another teacher's comments.

    Teaching the same lesson to more than one class affords the opportunity to refine instructional strategies when needed. Although each class has its own personality to which lessons are adjusted, secondary school teachers who repeat lessons admit that they sometimes revise a lesson for a subsequent class because some aspect did not go as planned in an earlier class. Even the best of planning cannot guarantee a smooth lesson. Elementary-level teaching specialists have the same opportunity to refine and revise lessons as they are re- peated. Not every lesson requires refine- ment, but the opportunity for revision with repetition has been identified as an advan- tage by the East Baton Rouge Parish teach- ers.

    Another advantage to teaching the same lesson to more than one group is the re- peated use of mathematics manipulatives or science-laboratory equipment. Some teachers admitted they neglected using manipulatives or undertaking science ex-

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    periments because they did not want to go to the trouble of setting up equipment for one thirty-to-forty-minute period each day.

    In-service training can become more specific. In-service training is much more productive with a small group of highly motivated teachers who have chosen to specialize than with all grade level teachers in a particular area.

    The use of subject specialists increases the opportunity to equip classrooms with manipulatives for the teaching of math- ematics and scientific equipment for the teaching of science. Equipping one teacher at each grade level is more cost-effective than giving all generalists the same equip- ment and materials.

    The subject-teaching-specialist concept promotes professional growth. Local, state, and national organizations in mathematics,

    science; social studies, language arts, and reading promote professional growth and develop...

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