Great algebra teachers – squared

Angela "Laila" Hasan

Dr. Laila Hasan

Teachers who get feedback from and share strategies with their peers are more likely to continue to improve than those who work in isolation. Unfortunately, teachers work alone over 80 percent of the time, and do not reap the benefits of learning from their fellow instructors. Assistant Professor Laila Hasan is determined to change that. With the help of a $50,000 grant from Boeing, she is developing a program which will connect high school Algebra I teachers to each other online to share best practices and improve their teaching strategies. Algebra I was chosen because it has emerged as an academic gatekeeper. Students who fail to master the higher level abstract thinking skills required in Algebra I are far more likely to drop out, so it is imperative that their teachers are able to help them achieve mastery.

The program will launch this fall with 12 math teachers from four members of the USC Family of Schools: Manual Arts High School, Foshay Learning Center K-12, the Los Angeles Performing Arts Magnet and 32nd Street (K-12). They were issued webcams and earphones that work with the laptops they already use, as well as video cameras which they can use to film themselves and their students in class.

The teachers will access a custom learning portal after school hours from home. “When adult learners get to select their environment, they’re more productive,” said Hasan. “Teachers will be more inclined to participate when they’re more comfortable and if sessions take place at a more convenient time of the day. We want to remove obstacles, and create a safe place where teachers can be critiqued and learn how to critique others.”

The group will meet online with a Rossier professor to share strategies and videos of their in-class lessons and to discuss student work. They will convene both as a large group and as smaller groups in virtual “rooms” that the professor can monitor. They will also meet weekly to discuss ways to improve the program. When needed, USC student workers will help with filming and uploading videos.

This revolutionary type of hybrid learning environment has been used successfully in the MAT@USC program, but it is seldom used in schools with low-income students who are not technologically savvy. All of the participating schools face overcrowding, high teacher turnover, and a high percentage of novice teachers as well as teachers who are teaching in areas outside of their credentialed area of expertise. “These schools are very typical of urban schools,” said Hasan. “The advantage we have is that we already have a relationship with these schools. This grant will allow us to do more.”

An extra benefit of the program is that pre-service MAT teachers will also be able to participate in the online sessions. They will be able to observe class lessons, participate in discussions, and observe how experienced teachers evaluate their own practices. “They usually don’t have access to this,” said Hasan.

Hasan has long had a passion for STEM instruction. She taught middle school math for 15 years, and has also taught at the high school and elementary levels. She believes that this program could be perfect for middle school teachers, and hopes that once the program matures, it will be expanded to include more teachers and schools.

— Kathy Hernandez

USC Rossier Futures Magazine - STEM issueThis article was featured in the Summer / Fall 2011 issue of Rossier’s Futures in Urban Ed magazine.

Click here to see more articles from that issue and click here to download a PDF of the magazine.