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New Mexico State University

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NMSU partners with Las Cruces Public Schools to improve mathematics teaching

An advisory council and a research grant partnership with New Mexico State University are helping Las Cruces Public Schools improve teaching and student learning in the area of mathematics for schools across the district.

The Mathematics Advisory Council (MAC) stemmed from the creation of the Mathematically Connected Communities (MC2) grant, written by NMSU faculty and staff in 2003 to provide for continuous professional development and increase the scope of school district partnerships around the state.

Established two years ago, the MAC helps to carry out this mission in LCPS. The council brings together stakeholders in the school district and the community, including principals, teachers, school board members and parents, to focus on improving student learning and performance.

"The MAC is unique nationally. There are not many school districts where stakeholders from all levels of the community come together to make informed decisions for schools and the students attending them," said Cathy Kinzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education.

"The MAC includes the voices of many and has the potential to create long-term change in mathematics for all students," said Janice Bradley, a MAC facilitator and a mathematics educator who worked on the MC2 grant.

The council is working on a five-year plan, which will serve as a guide for improving teaching and learning in the district. Plan decisions are based upon data garnered from research conducted by the Scaling Up Mathematics Achievement (SUMA) research grant, a partnership between NMSU and the Las Cruces Public School District. SUMA conducts research using focus groups, student assessments, observations and other means of data collection.

"Changing the culture of teaching and learning mathematics takes time, commitment, and support through policy and resources throughout the district," Kinzer said. "We recognize the importance of district and school policy built from a shared vision for mathematics learning. It makes a big difference in student achievement."

Recently, SUMA conducted research about the implementation of a problem-solving curriculum across the state by observing kindergarten through eighth grade classes in LCPS. The curriculum is based on the idea that students need to understand the reasoning behind a formula, instead of just the formula itself.

Research in this area is on-going, but so far data has shown the implementation process requires numerous professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators. It also has shown the need for more useful content knowledge in math for many teachers.

"Teachers are challenged because a new curriculum requires a new way of teaching," Kinzer explained. "Teaching through problem-solving and student participation to understand mathematics is an unfamiliar approach for many educators."

Kinzer and Bradley, along with other facilitators, support the Math District Leadership teams throughout New Mexico.