Texas Tech, Regional Partners Receive $6 Million Grant for Middle School Math Project

A $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a project that could result in a new national model for training mathematics teachers.

Texas Tech University and seven regional partners have received a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project that could result in a new national model for training mathematics teachers. The West Texas Middle School Mathematics Partnership (WTMSMP) includes Angelo State University, Sul Ross State University, Texas Tech University, and The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, along with Texas Education Service Center Regions 15, 17 and 18 and the Lubbock Independent School District. WTMSMP will impact more than 150 teachers and 50,000 students during the course of the five-year project. "By partnering with other universities and Education Service Centers across West Texas, we can reach more teachers and many more students," said Gary Harris, the project's lead investigator and professor of mathematics at Texas Tech. "Our goal is to develop and deliver new courses at the university level in which middle school teachers will acquire a deep understanding of the elementary mathematics they teach, mathematics teaching knowledge, and cultural sensitivity to the diverse West Texas student population." NSF's Math and Science partnership program received 181 proposals for an available $43 million. The WTMSMP was one of only 28 selected, receiving about one-seventh of the total funds awarded. "This award is indicative of the importance NSF is placing on math and science education across the country," said Guy Bailey, Texas Tech president. "This project is a perfect example of higher education fulfilling its mission of service to our community and to our state and nation." The broad geographic area covered by the partnership provides an opportunity to look at teaching methods in a wide variety of schools with an emphasis on examining the impact that cultural diversity and language have on the learning of mathematics. The project will also examine the impact of the resource constraints faced by rural schools on teaching and learning. Another key component of the project is research. Harris and his team selected middle school teachers as their target group because that appears to be a critical time for American students. "There is some thought that American students excel in math and can compete with students in any country in the world up until about the fourth grade," Harris said. "But for some reason between grades four and nine, our students lose that edge. Some of our research will look at whether providing teachers with more in-depth training rather than focusing on broader training will narrow that achievement gap." The project is under the direction of Harris, Jerry Dwyer, assistant professor of mathematics at Texas Tech; Tara Stevens, associate professor of educational psychology at Texas Tech; Warren Koepp, educational consultant for mathematics, gifted/talented education for Education Service Center Region 18; and Zenaida Aguirre-Munoz, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at Texas Tech. The five-year project begins in January 2009 and will bring select middle school teachers together during the summer for intensive classes that will provide a deep knowledge of specific areas of mathematics taught in middle school. The first groups of teachers will be selected this spring. The first course, which will focus on numbers, will be taught this summer in each of the three regions. Subsequent course topics will be developed based on teacher input and identified needs. Participating teachers will receive up to nine hours of graduate credit, stipends totaling at least $9,000, and travel and subsistence allowance to allow them to take part in the WTMSMP program. Classes will be taught each summer at the participating universities' campuses. The program will require teachers to dedicate three weeks during the summer: two weeks of intensive day-long classes, proceeded by three days of preparation work and followed by two days of assessment. Participating teachers will also be expected to participate in annual spring theme conferences and cooperate with WTMSMP researchers in data collection and analysis. Questions about applications to the West Texas Middle School Mathematics Partnership should be directed to Jerry Dwyer at (806) 742-2566 or jerry.dwyer@ttu.edu . Information about the West Texas Middle School Mathematics Partnership, including contact information for all partners and application packets, will be available starting October 1 at www.wtmsmp.math.ttu.edu.