BGSU math education faculty equip Ohio teachers to address Common Core

BOWLING GREEN, O.—Drs. Jonathan Bostic and Gabriel Matney traded their Bowling Green State University campus classrooms this summer to work with public school teachers in their home districts, preparing them to address the new Common Core State Standards for math. The two mathematics education faculty from the College of Education and Human Development have partnered to provide professional development in schools since 2012.

Funded with nearly $1 million from two Ohio Department of Education - Mathematics Science Partnership grants, Bostic and Matney are providing training to give teachers in several Ohio school districts a confident, stronger foundation in math so they are comfortable designing effective lessons that will enable students to become mathematically proficient thinkers.

The standards adopted by Ohio and other states have changed the equation for math teachers. Teachers must not only deepen their own content knowledge of the proficiencies students will now be expected to master, they must also expand their repertoire of teaching methods, including the use of educational technology.

Contrary to a popular misconception, the math standards do not prescribe a curriculum, Matney said. They set out a list of eight required proficiencies. Districts must determine how to teach so that students achieve those math skills.

“This is an approach I’ve always wanted to take, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it,” said Susannah Harris of Jackson Center Local Schools, expressing the sentiments of many of the participants. Harris has been teaching for 19 years.

That is where Matney and Bostic come in. As former K-12 mathematics teachers, they are only too familiar with the challenges teachers face, which is part of the reason they are willing to travel the sometimes 75 miles to reach their professional development participants.

“I call this generation of teachers the ‘in-betweens,’” Matney said. “We weren’t educated this way, but now we have to teach it.”

To implement their respective grant projects, they have put together diverse teams and serve as each other’s co-directors. Dr. Jessica Belcher, assistant director of the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education/COSMOS, is managing the grants and organizing the teacher sessions. Each team includes an assessment expert who will evaluate the effectiveness of the programs so they may be refined as needed.

“For short, we call the two grants COMP and CAMP,” Matney said. “COMP (Common Core for Mathematical Proficiency in Elementary Schools) is for K-5 teachers, and CAMP (Common Core for Achievement and Middle Grades Mathematical Proficiency) is for grades 6-8 teachers. The grants not only serve different grade levels, they also reach out to teachers in completely different geographical areas of Ohio.”

In the COMP program, led by Matney, 30 teachers in three schools in the Sandusky area — Ontario Elementary, Osborne Elementary and Sandusky Central Catholic — are receiving professional development.

In Bostic’s CAMP program, 30 teachers in Lima City Schools, Findlay City Schools, Fairlawn, and the Jackson Center, Bellfontaine and Hardin-Houston districts are participating. “We have seven schools in six districts, some of which are really small,” Bostic noted. “Some of the schools are very rural, while others are more urban. We also have special education teachers.”

To qualify for the professional development from the two grant-funded programs, districts had to have 80 percent participation among their schools, Bostic said. “Without that, the program couldn’t be as comprehensive and teachers could not change their classroom instruction and foster systemic changes across their districts.”

COMP and CAMP have been enthusiastically embraced by building principals. And for teachers like BGSU alumni Harris, who teaches math to students in grades 7-12 and provides math intervention for all fourth- and fifth-grade students each week, and Mark Shively, who teaches math in grades 6-8 in Findlay’s Glenwood School and also serves as an intervention specialist for students with special needs, the extended timespan of the training and having most of their colleagues on board has allowed for more collaborative learning, not only in their home buildings but across the counties and districts.

“It opens up a line of communication, and we can really get to know one another,” Harris said.

“This is the first professional development in a decade I feel I can really stand behind and feel good about,” added Shively.

Both he and Harris had worked with Bostic and Matney before and were eager to continue developing their skills in the new approach to math.

“When I heard that Dr. Bostic and Dr. Matney were offering this, I had no problem making the commitment, Harris said. “It’s an amazing thing that they’re doing, and they embrace what they do.”

In fact, Bostic noted, about a third of the teachers in his CAMP program participated in a previous grant-funded Improving Teacher Quality program for secondary teachers, Common Core for Reasoning and Sense Making: Secondary (CORES). “They found it so helpful that they’ve bought in for two more years,” he said. “CAMP will help them enact all the things they’ve been working on.”

“This will allow us to move forward,” Shively said. “The approach is versatile enough that we can make it our own and create exciting, rich and mathematically challenging lessons that engage our students and keep them thinking about math.

“We don’t just ask students to give their answer, but also to explain it. Having to verbalize their thinking ensures that they grasp the concepts. We want them to be logical, independent, critical thinkers, and to have the abilities that will get them satisfying jobs.”

Following this summer’s initial large-group meetings, the two programs have each begun a “lesson study” using an approach borrowed from collaborative international research. One teacher delivers the lesson in his or her own classroom while the others in the group observe. Based on what they see and how the students respond — what questions did the students ask, how were they answered, what questions were not asked? — they together revise and refine the lesson, and another teacher will give it in his or her classroom. This continues until they are satisfied with the effectiveness of the lesson.

“This is authentic professional development,” Matney said. “Student ideas are part of the process. We know that as we understand the complexity of teaching better, we will implement it better.”

Bostic and Matney chose their CAMP and COMP team members to help ensure the thoroughness of the training. CAMP includes mathematics department faculty Christina Miller and Sandy Zirkes; School of Intervention Services faculty Dr. Brooks Vostal, Liberty Center mathematics teacher Dianne Mott, and Dr. Toni Sondergeld from BGSU’s Center for Assessment and Evaluation. The COMP team includes Zirkes, nationally known education consultant Sherry Lane; and Jacob Burgoon of NWO/COSMOS as lead evaluator.

Both the CAMP and COMP programs address problem solving, a critical element of the new standards. “One of the standards calls for students to be able to ‘Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them,’” Matney noted.

Some things have not changed, he said. By third grade, for example, students must know their multiplication tables up to 9 x 9 by memory. However, he said, “There are lots of ways one can come to be able to remember multiplication products. We want students to understand the relationships between quantities and how we group them.

“Rigor is not about doing more math exercises. It’s about understanding mathematics problems and going deeper.”

Both Bostic and Matney are adamant that teachers should not be faulted for their sometimes-shallow knowledge of math, particularly in the elementary grades where they must teach all subjects.

“Math is so dense that it takes multiple experiences of engagement in problem solving to develop a deep understanding of the connections found in mathematics,” Bostic said.  “Time spent during this professional development is intended to further extend knowledge gained from teacher-preparation courses and on-the-job wisdom.”

It’s a big job, all agree, and they are taking it in small steps.

The best place to do that is directly in the classroom with the teachers. Their work will continue throughout the next two school years — “and we’ll need every second of it,” Matney said.