|October 21, 1999
Volume 30 Number 6
|A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico|
Teachers Lower Math Anxiety
Go into the first math class future elementary school teachers take as part of their undergraduate studies, and ask, "How many of you hate mathematics?" Eliza Berry, assistant professor of mathematics, and Robert Callahan, teacher-in-residence in mathematics, did just that. "Almost every hand in the room will go up. That's a pretty strong statement, to say you hate mathematics, yet you're expected to teach it an hour a day as a teacher," said Berry. She and Callahan are changing that response.
They measured attitude change and discovered that over the course of the semester, future teachers experienced "a small, but statistically significant decrease in anxiety, and corresponding move toward more constructivist beliefs in the teaching," said Berry. She explained constructivist learning theory as the belief "that people learn best and most truly by constructing knowledge for themselves." With cooperative learning groups, small group instruction, and opportunities for students to reflect as they learn, Berry and Callahan gave students both the principles and the experiences of this approach. By the end of the semester, almost all of the students in their team-taught Math 50B classes asked them for more opportunities to participate in math activities with elementary students.
Those opportunities are being provided by two new grants in mathematics education. For future elementary teachers, there are expanded opportunities to work with elementary school students through MathLinks: Linking Mathematics, Elementary Education, and the University Community. Last spring, Berry and Callahan placed two student CAVE volunteers at Citrus Elementary School to work with math as part of the Chico Math Project's partnership program. This year, thanks to funds for precollegiate academics from the chancellor's office, awarded by the provost's office, they are placing thirteen paid tutors in partnership classrooms in Chico and Oroville.
In addition to their elementary school classroom experiences, the tutors receive substantial support from Callahan and Berry. "They're going to have a seminar every other week in which we discuss mathematics content, assessment issues, and issues that come up in the classroom," said Berry.
To enhance mathematics education for future secondary teachers, Berry and Callahan received a three-year FIPSE grant. Theirs was one of twenty-six grants awarded nationwide. What was already in place at Chico State was a relatively new sequence for future teachers. "The students examine, in greater depth and detail, some high school mathematics content. They are simultaneously made more aware of pedagogical approaches and effective implementation of teaching," explained Berry. In the third semester of the sequence, some of these future teachers teach Math 1A. They attend seminars and are observed in the classroom. This year their classroom performance will be videotaped as well. Berry was very impressed with this program when she came to Chico State last year, and its presence influenced her decision to move to Chico.
She and Callahan will expand this program with the FIPSE grant. They saw how much stronger the program would be if students started it earlier. To do this, the program will recruit students as freshmen, house them together, provide them with both a faculty adviser and a high school mentor teacher. From the very beginning, they will have experiences to prepare them for the realities of high school teaching. As they are ready, the future teachers will take on increased responsibilities for facilitating and leading classroom experiences.
Berry is an example of the success of career preparation programs. In her education at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, she participated in the Preparing Professorate program, giving her experience and a taste of professorial realities while still a graduate student. She is pleased with the support Chico State provides for teacher preparation programs, and for the faculty committed to them, describing the department and college support as "critical, it's been fundamental, and it's been beyond my wildest imaginings." -- BA
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