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NMSU math mentoring classes get good reviews from teachers, students

Pat Baggett, a NMSU math professor, discusses designing cubes with students and local teachers in her class.


New Mexico State University mathematics professor Pat Baggett believes "kids can't learn what teachers don't know." Since 1995 she's been teaching partnership courses for current and future elementary and middle school teachers to improve the quality of math education.

"We all want better mathematics for our children in schools," she said. "Three aspects to providing that quality are superior teacher knowledge, content and materials."

In her classes, Baggett strives to improve all three. Through partnership courses, she teaches current teachers and NMSU education majors simultaneously, teaming them in groups and mentoring pairs. They learn math in units containing material they can use in elementary and middle school classrooms.

If teachers use the materials in their classes, they are encouraged to ask their students to write about what they learned. The preservice teachers must go out into classrooms 10 or more times during the semester, first to observe, next to co-teach and finally to try it on their own.

"This is often the first exposure these students have had to actual classrooms in a teaching role," Baggett said. "But they go in to a mentoring teacher's class with materials they've reviewed in the university course, so they are ready."

One student wrote, "Going into the classroom really made the difference in this class. I feel a lot more confident about teaching (math especially)."

Courses Baggett has taught in this fashion over the past four years include Fundamentals of Elementary Mathematics I and II and Fundamentals of Algebra and Geometry. Elementary Mathematics with Technology is a fourth course, new this year.

The classes are offered with assistance from grants and donations, enabling local teachers to attend free. Funding sources include the Las Cruces Public Schools Title II program, the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education Eisenhower program, the Exxon Education Foundation and the National Science Foundation's New Mexico Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation.

Some of the money from these sources also will purchase supplies for the classes. That may include everything from posterboard, tape and glue to scales, protractors and calculators, Baggett said. The students also may check out materials through NMSU's Math Education Lab to teach their lessons.

Partnering with teachers and sending NMSU students into local schools would not be possible without a good alliance between NMSU's math department, the NMSU College of Education and LCPS, Baggett said. Karin Matray, LCPS's director of staff development, agreed.

"We hire teachers from NMSU all the time," she said. "It's critical that we have a voice and a role in their preparation." This process gives students experience in a non-evaluative, collegial environment, and helps ease their entry into teaching, Matray said. This fall alone the district will add 100 teachers new to the profession.

More than 300 undergraduates and 150 teachers, who receive graduate math credit, have enrolled in Baggett's unique courses to date. Class reviews from students and teachers have been positive, and so have comments from elementary students on the receiving end of the lessons, Baggett said.

A fifth grader wrote, "When I get to college I would like to take the class that my teacher takes. My favorite words my math teacher speaks are, Last night in my math class ...' When she says that I know we are going to do something challenging and fun!"

In course evaluations, one teacher wrote, "I am a better math teacher than I was in January, and my students are better math learners!"

In the future, Baggett hopes to develop more courses using the mentoring model. Also, she currently is working with NMSU's education college to develop a master of arts in teaching with a specialty in math.

The new technology course has a waiting list for the fall, but it also will be offered in the spring. Elementary Mathematics I still has fall tuition scholarships available for teachers. For more information, contact Baggett at baggett@nmsu.edu or (505) 646-2039 or see http://math.nmsu.edu/~baggett.