To keep students in math, new project targets teacher PD

July 5, 2018

A $1.4 million federal grant will support a USC Rossier effort to improve professional development

By Ross Brenneman

The Institute of Education Sciences has awarded a $1.4 million grant to Yasemin Copur-Gencturk, an assistant professor at USC Rossier.

The grant, which lasts four years, funds a project that will develop and test an interactive, personalized computer-based professional development program for middle school teachers.

The project, titled “Advancing Middle School Teachers’ Understanding of Proportional Reasoning for Teaching,” aims to increase middle school teachers’ content and pedagogical content knowledge of proportional reasoning and, in turn, improve their students’ understanding of proportional reasoning—that is, the ability to compare different quantities.

“I am very excited about this project because it attempts to address one of the greatest challenges in professional development for teachers: scaling up quality programs,” Copur-Gencturk said. “This project has the potential to overcome educational inequity by creating a quality professional development program that is available to mathematics teachers across the United States.”

Preventing math apathy

Research shows that mathematics achievement in middle school affects students’ persistence in mathematics, their later mathematics achievement and their success in STEM careers. Students who struggle in advanced mathematics courses are less likely to graduate from college than higher-achieving peers; often, the struggle to reach proficiency begins in middle school.

Copur-Gencturk plans to tap into studies showing that professional development that targets both content and pedagogical knowledge are more successful in improving student outcomes than improving just one knowledge area alone.

The project will also recruit middle school teachers from urban and rural districts in six states to help design the program. The first three years of the grant will focus on development and testing, and, in year four, the development team will deploy a cluster randomized control trial with 70 teachers and more than 3,500 students.

This is the second major grant awarded to Copur-Gencturk this year. In March, she received the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award to do a long-term study of content-knowledge development among elementary and middle school math teachers.

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