University Courses on
Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge
Aims, Actions, Adaptations:
Improved Instruction and University Courses on
Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge
To what extent did teacher completion of university content courses enhance instruction and student learning during the 2002-2008 Chicago Math & Science Initiative (CMSI)? A number of teacher-focused evaluation efforts addressed this question on a limited basis. However, for a variety of reasons this question cannot be answered comprehensively at a district-wide level.
As of 2007-2008, the district’s data system did not accurately link elementary school teachers to the students they taught. At that time, no CPS database existed that documented which schools took a departmentalized approach to teaching middle grades math and science courses, or the credentials of the teachers who taught them. cite Therefore, the district could not say, for example, to what extent teachers with math or science endorsements were teaching middle grades students in those subjects. The databases provided the number of middle grades math- and science-endorsed teachers at a school, but not the grade level, or the subjects, or students taught.
On a district-wide level, there were only preliminary data on the extent to which teachers learned and were able to apply their knowledge and skills from university-based math and science courses. Based on 2004 and 2007-2008 interviews with course instructors, enrolled teachers were sometimes given assignments that directly impacted the teachers' classroom practices. A survey of 117 teachers enrolled in 11 university math and science courses across four universities found that teachers self-reported that their university courses were relevant to their teaching. Over 80% of the teachers responding indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed that: (1) their course(s) covered specific strategies to use with their own students, (2) their course(s) offered opportunities to practice those strategies and discussions on ways students learn, and (3) they used content from the course(s) in their classrooms.
As discussed in the previous section, the development of content knowledge must be connected to the experience of teaching in order to improve instruction and student learning. Teachers who participated in the university-based programs described many teaching strategies that were presented in their university courses and that they tried in their own K-8 classrooms. Based on surveys, interviews, and observations, these teachers’ K-8 students experienced more student-focused learning strategies such as:
- Working through a few problems in class rather than working through many problems quickly and individually,
- Trying multiple methods of solving the same problem,
- Working together in small groups,
- Sitting in desks arranged either in a U-shape (rather than in rows) or in groups of four to facilitate discussion,
- Using their surroundings to think about the content (a teacher had students find fractions in their classroom, such as how the area of the door made up a fraction of the wall),
- Investigating using manipulatives and other materials,
- Discussing math and science words on a “word wall” posted in the room,
- Using reciprocal teaching where students “become teachers” and describe concepts and how to solve problems,
- Working with their parents on homework assignments (teachers had students explain a word problem to their parents and then had parents answer a question about the child’s strengths and weaknesses in problem-solving),
- Peer teaching (with less teacher talking),
- Using extended responses to explain their answers, and
- Using “games” to reinforce lessons already taught.
There is evidence that teachers felt that the courses made a difference in their instructional practices. There are also cases where multiple sources of data suggest teachers are gaining knowledge, applying it to their teaching, and seeing students learn. One case is available here. However, it is not clear to what extent teachers district-wide changed their knowledge of content, their teaching practices, or their students’ achievement.