Chico Unified School District and CSU, Chico Collaborate on Math and Science

Date: 01-29-2008

Kathleen McPartland
Public Affairs
William Fisher
Center for Mathematics and Science Education

Eleven new California Math Science Partnerships (MSPs) have been funded in the state, and Chico Unified School District (CUSD) has received two of them, one in science and one in mathematics. Both of these are collaborative ventures with California State University, Chico faculty, and both will support the efforts to establish professional learning communities within the school district. The grants extend for a three-year period and will involve more than 85 teachers.

The science grant Building Bridges seeks to connect expertise and research efforts in science education at CSU, Chico with the development of professional learning communities in the CUSD. The grant, for $1.08 million over three years, will allow a cohort of 36 teachers in grades 5-8 to work together.

A professional learning community is a small group of teachers who regularly work together to develop content knowledge, share teaching strategies and improve lessons. These learning communities will be developed over the duration of the grant via a lesson study model, a highly effective approach to improving teaching that has been used successfully in other countries (especially Japan) for several years. In this approach, teachers design a lesson together and then take turns teaching the lessons, revising and then evaluating the effectiveness of the changes.

Teachers will participate in three summer institutes that will provide deep content and pedagogical knowledge in physics. Pedagogy refers to the “how” of teaching and the theoretical underpinnings of teaching methods that result in the highest levels of student learning.

Academic-year activities will focus on bringing the knowledge learned in the summer to the classroom using the lesson study model. Curriculum developed through the lesson study model will be made available to teachers around the globe through a specially designed Web site. Research on the effectiveness of Building Bridges will inform future education reform efforts and curriculum development. Two science-education faculty at CSU, Chico, Leslie Atkins and Irene Salter, in collaboration with Anne Stephens and Janet Brinson from Chico Unified School District and other teacher/leaders from the community.

The second grant is the $1.6 million Mathematics Professional Learning Community (MPLC). MPLC is a collaboration that is designed for teachers in grades 3-7. Based on assessment of student performance, input from teachers, administrators and teacher leaders, and research on student readiness for higher mathematics, the MPLC will focus on developing algebraic thinking in the K-7 curriculum and proportional reasoning across the content areas.

MPLC will also address teachers’ understanding of the mathematics behind standards identified as critical to developing competence in algebra. The goal is to improve students’ mathematical achievement by increasing teachers’ understanding of pedagogical content knowledge. A secondary goal is to establish a culture of professional mathematics learning that brings together prospective and practicing K-12 teachers, administrators and university faculty. It will build on professional learning communities initiated at the school district.

Prospective and practicing teachers will learn about mathematics lesson study activities in CSU, Chico’s Mathematics Hands-On Lab. They will join math coaches and administrators in discussion and work groups that will identify and respond to common challenges in learning and teaching mathematics.

MPLC will be coordinated by two math education faculty at CSU, Chico, Rapti de Silva and Chris Yakes, in collaboration with Katy Early and Janet Brinson from CUSD and other teacher/leaders from the community.

Bill Fisher, director of the Center for Mathematics and Science Education that will be coordinating the subcontracts to CSU said, “The MSP grants will allow Chico Unified School District teachers time to evaluate the math and science curriculum currently taught at the elementary and middle school levels. It will help them gain effective instructional practices to improve students’ understandings in these areas.”