Math Education Gets Extreme Makeover

January 6, 2012
math teachers discussing ideas

Doing the math are teacher leaders (left to right) Krista Miller (Humboldt County),  Amy Hubbard (Humboldt County), Nicole Cochran (Del Norte County), Erin Elliott (Del Norte County, Sonoma State BA & Credential) and Jessica Balli (Sonoma County). 


Does math education need an extreme makeover? 

Just ask Education Professor Kathy Morris from Sonoma State University. Morris is looking at a "fabulous opportunity" to provide better and far more coherent mathematics education, thanks to a $250,000 grant from the California Postsecondary Education Commission (now part of the California Department of Education).

She is guiding a team of K-12 teacher leaders from five northern California counties as they learn to support teachers in their region with the implementation of the new Common Core Standards. The next weekend teacher leader training is Jan. 13-14.

"This time we have chance to get it right," says Morris, who is excited about the opportunity to provide new math education approaches to K-12 teachers beyond the current "skills and drills" approach that is seen in so many California classrooms. 

"We are now in the world of the $1 calculator yet we still spend most of our instructional time training children to do what that cheap tool can do."

Morris is not advocating abandoning the math computational skills but changing the emphasis to incorporate applied mathematics for a more rigorous, and conceptual approach.

"The new Common Core Standards for Mathematics emphasize students' development of higher order of critical thinking, and a capacity to understand and use mathematics. This approach will better translate in to both college and career readiness," she explains.

The new Common Core State Standards are the result of a nationally coordinated, state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear standards for Mathematics, English Language Arts, and Science. They replace California's existing standards and are different enough to warrant new teacher professional development programs.

The grant is used to work with teacher leaders from Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Del Norte, and Humboldt counties who will develop regionally tailored professional development that will support their colleagues to learn about and effectively implement the new state standards. 

The plans addresses the unique needs of teachers in rural areas of the counties, as well as those in the more urban areas. 

Based on the work Morris will do with these leaders, county teams will be able to help the teachers in their communities work toward a common goal: student success from elementary school through college. 

"Implementing these new standards well will require districts to provide teachers with adequate support to learn about the changes, in order to be able to implement them thoughtfully," she says. 

If we fail to provide these, we won't be able to realize the potential benefit from these new, rigorous and research based standards. And it won't be the students' or their teachers' fault." 

The grant to SSU supporting these five counties is one of 14 awarded in the state for teacher professional development.

It involves partnerships with faculty from Humboldt State University, the Sonoma County Office of Education and Konocti Unified School District. 

Math Professors Ben Ford is the co-principal investigator on the project and Brigitte Lahme is one of the instructors for the teacher leader institutes.

Professor Kathy Morris can be reached at