Math education award

UD program wins Wisniewski Award for building better teacher prep system


8:55 a.m., April 17, 2013--Developing course curricula is typically a solitary process. Teachers review their material, create lesson plans and make adjustments based on their students’ outcomes. Instead of using shared experiences to implement known improvements, teachers find themselves making changes based on trial and error. 

Faculty in the University of Delaware’s Mathematics Education Undergraduate Program for Elementary Teachers have developed a better system -- implementing and encouraging the use of research-based collaboratively developed lesson plans.

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As a result of their work, they received the 2013 Wisniewski Teacher Education Award from the Society of Professors of Education. The award will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

The award, named for former dean of education at the University of Tennessee, Richard Wisniewski, is presented each year to an institution that has excelled in contributing to the theories and practices of teacher education.

UD’s math education program relies on four core principles when developing their lesson plans: specify and commit to a shared set of learning goals, use evidence to drive revisions, store and represent knowledge in shared products (like lesson plans), and create a culture that models the improvement process for pre-service teachers.

For the past 12 years, the faculty has engaged in this process for building knowledge that enables continually improving teacher preparation.

“Our program encourages collaboration at several levels,” explains Anne Morris, professor in the School of Education and lead researcher in the program. “Our faculty and doctoral students meet to create lesson plans for the courses, based on agreed-upon goals and strategies.  And our students are taught these skills so they can engage in a similar process once they start their careers.”

The program has four steps, which are as follows:

Step 1

Math education faculty set specific learning goals for their pre-service teachers. These goals have two directives:

  • Ensuring UD pre-service teachers can help their K-6 students acquire essential math knowledge, and;
  • Helping their UD students learn to analyze and improve their own teaching skills.

Step 2

Based on the pre-service teachers’ performance, changes are made to the lessons. Usually small adjustments are made and the results tracked to determine if the revisions have a positive impact. 

“When we teach the lessons, we measure what the students learn and, if we think there’s a way to improve our outcomes, we revise them for the next cohort,” explains Jim Hiebert, professor in the School of Education and the project’s principal investigator.

Step 3

The lesson plans become a repository of shared information. The lesson plans not only outline the teaching methods used, they show what was tried in the past. By providing this historical perspective, they minimize the chances that new instructors will return to earlier, less effective teaching strategies. They also include suggestions for proposed changes in future semesters.

Step 4

Pre-service teachers are informed of the continual improvement efforts of the courses they are taking and asked to participate in data collection activities. This helps them internalize the process of studying teaching and models a collaborative culture they can foster when working with colleagues in their own career. 

The math education program has developed 20 elaborated lesson plans for each of their courses. The lesson plans specify the learning goals, instructional activities, typical pre-service teacher’s responses and suggested instructor responses. Every lesson plan is considered unfinished, with an explicit invitation for instructor groups to test and share ideas for improvement. 

Morris shares her long-term goal for the program, saying, “We are working to make our math education lesson plans available to other institutions who want to use them. To further expand collaboration we plan to engage the users in testing the products and use their information to improve the products for everyone. ” 

Article by Alison Burris

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