The September 30 issue of Education Week includes an article titled Math-Modeling PD Takes Teachers Beyond the Common Core that takes an extensive look at George Mason University’s National Science Foundation funded research into the use of advanced problem solving by elementary teachers.

Many experts believe that “introducing modeling to younger students can improve their critical-thinking and application skills in math.”

The article describes the work of Jennifer Suh, an associate professor of mathematics in the College of Education and Human Development, andPadmanabhan Seshaiyer, professor of mathematical sciences in the College of Science.

Their project includes a year-long, university-district partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Over the summer, 24 K-6 teachers received professional development on how to teach modeling, a math skill normally not taught until high school (if at all) followed by additional activities throughout the school year.

From the article:

Young children start using physical models in mathematics as soon as they can count. But mathematical modeling is something different and more complex: It’s the process of taking an open-ended, multifaceted situation, often from life or the workplace, and using math to solve it…

Padmanabhan Seshaiyer and Jennifer Suh, both mathematics professors at George Mason, opened the [professional development] session by asking the teachers to brainstorm the kinds of problems they’ve had to solve in their own lives recently…

As they worked, Seshaiyer asked the teachers to identify their “assumptions and constraints,” words typically used in engineering classes, referring to the factors they believe to be true and those that limit their solutions…

Teachers will meet periodically throughout the school year in groups of four or five to do “lesson study”—a collaborative teaching-improvement process with origins in Japan. The groups will choose a modeling problem, devise lesson plans around it, and predict how students will solve the problem, as well as the kinds of mistakes they’ll make. After doing the modeling problem with their classes, the team will meet again to debrief on what worked and didn’t work with students.

“Having all those heads together to anticipate what kids will do will be a benefit,” said Brian Kent, a math-resource teacher at Weyanoke Elementary School in Fairfax who took part in the professional development.

Click here for the full article.
For more information about the project, please see: NSF Grant to Help K-12 Teachers Teach the “Why?” Behind Math.

Leave a Comment