WVU's Matthew Campbell and alumna Joanna Burt-Kinderman will expand a mathematics education throughout five West Virginia counties

WVU researcher, Pocahontas County Schools partner to improve mathematics education in the Mountain State

West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services will expand a mathematics education project launched by an alumna in Pocahontas County to five additional school systems in an effort to improve instruction in the state.

Mountaineer Mathematics Master Teachers (M3T): Supporting Teacher Leadership and Networked Improvement of Mathematics Education in West Virginia will kick off in Grant, Fayette, Mineral, Randolph and Gilmer counties thanks to a $177,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

Matthew Campbell, an assistant professor of secondary mathematics education at the College of Education and Human Services, and Joanna Burt-Kinderman, who was recognized as one of Education Week’s 2019 Leaders to Learn From for her work as a mathematics instructional coach in Pocahontas County, will work to provide mathematics teachers with the tools they need to implement meaningful changes in their classrooms based on the methods Burt-Kinderman uses.

“We want to see how this vision of teacher collaboration and teacher improvement can scale,” Campbell said. “This funding from the Benedum Foundation allows us to move forward and to work with newly-identified teacher leaders and teachers in their local contexts to see how this would work at a moderate scale.”

For the 2019-2020 school year, each of the participating county school systems will select an exemplary teacher leader in mathematics education to with Campbell and Burt-Kinderman. The program model asks teachers to identify specific problems in their mathematics classrooms, develop methods for addressing those problems reflected in research, and iteratively test and measure those new methods toward improvements.

Jim Denova, vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, said peer learning communities are emerging as the preferred approach to professional development.

“What really excites me about this model is that it focuses on deepening the educator’s skills at assessing the impediments to learning for individual students or groups of students, then structuring interventions around those challenges.” Denova continued. “It is truly the medical school model of education, which emphasizes a solid diagnosis before selecting a treatment.”

According to Burt-Kinderman, this approach to professional development for educators runs counter to more traditional approaches in which researchers or experts present a way of teaching that those educators are expected to replicate.

“The teachers choose what they want to change, and they have a very structured way to test those changes so that we can learn across contexts which changes actually lead toward improvement,” Burt-Kinderman said.

The teacher leaders will connect weekly via virtual meetings with Burt-Kinderman to work through the same process for their individual classrooms, and Campbell will provide insights based on his expertise in mathematics education. As the year progresses, participating teachers will be asked to work with fellow teachers in their own counties and lead local collaborative improvement efforts.

The project team is joined by Kirk Walters, director of math education research and evaluation at WestEd, who brings experience in growing an improvement network of math teachers across New England in the Better Math Teaching Network. Walters will guide the team in the use of Network Improvement Community methodologies, which help connect learning towards improvement across diverse settings.

Campbell and Burt-Kinderman hope to implement this model in more counties throughout the state, with the ultimate goal of affecting the success of students in mathematics classrooms statewide.

“What I think we have the opportunity to learn a lot about is how teachers across multiple districts work in these collaborative and strategic ways, and how we support teacher leaders in West Virginia in the future,” Campbell said.

This grant supports the next phase of work that was initially funded by a capacity building grant from the National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, awarded in June 2018.

The gift was made through the WVU Foundation, the non-profit corporation that generates and administers private support for the University.

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