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But the creation of new, online professional development materials at the University of Missouri could help teachers like Dwiggins, who teaches Algebra 2 and Geometry at Macon High School in Macon, Missouri, teach their students more effectively.
“Algebra can be a tough subject to learn if the students don’t find it applicable to their daily lives,” Dwiggins said. “But we use critical thinking and problem-solving skills all the time, and math is a big part of that. So we, as teachers, need to find creative ways to spark students’ interests in a way that makes them more motivated to learn.”
With the help of a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Zandra de Araujo, associate professor in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum, is creating the online materials with the ultimate goal of improved learning outcomes.
“If we can help students succeed in algebra, which is a major prerequisite to many of the higher math courses, they might have access to a greater variety of careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields later on,” de Araujo said. “I often think back to what would have been helpful to me as a former math teacher, so I am passionate about helping teachers build on their strengths and find new strategies for approaching algebra instruction.”
The four-year grant will start with teacher observations in Missouri classrooms where de Araujo can meet with algebra teachers, discuss their strengths and needs, and evaluate the effectiveness of the professional development materials before expanding her outreach to schools nationwide.
“Math is actually a very creative field, but algebra has traditionally been taught in a very dry and procedural way,” de Araujo said. “More active and engaging instruction is key. This research will help us not only see the impact different instruction strategies can have on teachers’ approach to teaching the subject, but also the effect that can have on student learning outcomes.”
Areas of focus to assist algebra teachers include strategies for reviewing homework problems, assigning group work to increase collaboration and embedding interactive questions or other features into online videos to support students learning asynchronously during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This project is hitting right at the heart of where research and math education needs to be,” said Dwiggins, who also serves on the grant’s advisory board. “We can’t ask our students to be learners, if we as teachers are not striving to learn and improve our practice as well.”
Funding for the grant was provided by the National Science Foundation. Co-authors on the grant include Samuel Otten at MU and Amber Candela at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.