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Educating teachers key to making math work

Sunday, August 23, 1998

Anne McFeaters and Marilee Glick don't think of themselves as the math police, though they know some fellow city schoolteachers might see them that way. It's their job to teach the teachers the intricacies of the district's new elementary school math curriculum, Everyday Math, a program they have come to believe in completely.

Glick has all the passion of a convert. A self-described "math idiot" (at least before Everyday Math), she was against the program when she was on the curriculum selection committee. It struck her, at first, as complicated and difficult to teach. But after piloting it, she appreciated its richness and the enthusiasm it generated in pupils. Now she is a missionary in the cause.

Glick and McFeaters recognize that the program requires a less traditional style of teaching than the "sit down, listen to what I tell you and do your worksheet" routine of many classrooms.

Most good elementary math teachers, like McFeaters, have been supplementing textbooks for years with hands-on material. But the exploration aspects of the new curriculum go beyond such techniques and provide additional challenges.

It can be especially intimidating to the many elementary and middle school teachers who, like Glick, have little affinity or special training for the subject to begin with.

Making a more challenging curriculum available is the first step, but making teachers comfortable with it is absolutely key to its success, according to Edward A. Silver, a professor of math education at the University of Pittsburgh. The government agrees, and it has boosted the money available for teacher training.

A $3.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation makes it possible for Pittsburgh to afford the teachers' demonstration project in the elementary and middle schools. And Diane Briars, the city's math coordinator, believes the program has been an "absolutely critical" component in making Everyday Math work well.

Sherry Fraser, who helped develop the new Interactive Math Program curriculum for high school students, said teacher training is all-important. IMP requires districts that adopt the program to provide each teacher with 240 hours of training over four years.

"We don't believe in making things teacher-proof," Fraser said. "We make it teacher-dependent. That's what makes a curriculum come to life."

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