NSF grant to Rice will fund Math Leadership Institute

December 15, 2004

A $3.8 million grant awarded to Rice University by the National Science Foundation will fund a Mathematics Leadership Institute (MLI) to improve math instruction in Houston-area high schools.

Over a five-year period, the institute will identify two "lead teachers" at each high school in the Houston and Aldine independent schools districts to receive intensive training in math instruction and development of leadership skills at Rice. These 80 teachers will be charged with improving math instruction in their schools by serving as intellectual leaders who can assist fellow teachers.

"We want to provide resources for teachers to better motivate and inspire their students to want to study mathematics and to be successful at doing so," said Anne Papakonstantinou, co-principal investigator and project director for the grant. "What we want to see is kids enjoying mathematics, seeing the value of mathematics and taking more advanced mathematics courses."

The lead teachers will attend a four-week MLI Summer Leadership Institute at Rice for two summers to improve their math knowledge, teaching and understanding of current research in math education and to develop their leadership and adult-education skills.

During the academic year, lead teachers will be released from teaching one period each day to work with the math teachers at their schools, particularly with novice teachers and other teachers who need support. Lead teachers will also provide a "model classroom" where other math teachers can observe the lead teachers implementing effective math instruction techniques with an emphasis on discovery learning. In addition, lead teachers will observe the classes of other teachers in their departments to offer feedback and suggestions for improving instruction.

Lead teachers will have 12-month support from Rice University experts. Developing long-term relationships between high school and university math faculty is one of the goals of the MLI grant. Lead teachers will receive a stipend each year for their participation in MLI, graduate credit for their summer professional development, travel money to attend national conferences and classroom resources. They will also receive support to prepare for the Texas Master Mathematics Teacher Certification - an elite status that very few teachers across the stave have earned, Papakonstantinou said.

The MLI is a collaboration among the Rice University School Mathematics Project and Rice's departments of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Mathematics and Statistics and the two school districts.

Principal investigator John Polking, Rice professor emeritus of mathematics, noted that the Houston area has many outstanding math teachers. "The MLI gives us the opportunity to recognize some of them and to expand the impact of these teachers from their own classrooms to those of their colleagues,"said Polking, who will be assisted by co-principal investigators Papakonstantinou and Richard Tapia, the Noah Harding Professor of Computational and Applied Mathematics at Rice.

Papakonstantinou cited several reasons why the MLI targets senior high school instruction: unacceptable passing rates of high school students on the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, high drop-out rates of high school students, a diminishing pool of highly qualified high school math teachers, and school restructuring that requires teachers to teach all math courses at the high school level.

Much of the instruction that lead teachers will receive reflects the 19 years of experience that the Rice University School Mathematics Project has had working with Houston-area public and private schools. Papakonstantinou, a clinical assistant professor in natural science at Rice, is hopeful that the MLI can become a model program for schools across the nation. The first MLI Summer Leadership Institute will run June 6 through July 1, 2005.

Rice University

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