As new math education standards take hold in classrooms across the nation, K-12 teachers also are faced with different challenges – they must quickly synthesize the new criteria and help students meet their targeted goals.
The mathematic standards, known as the Common Core State Standards, were developed by governors and state-level education officials nationwide as a guide to what students should know at each stage of their K-12 experience. But until recently, there wasn’t a simple way for math educators to learn from each other about applying the standards or share best practices with their peers.
In response, the University of Arizona mathematics department developed an interactive website designed to unite a cadre of creative, well-equipped math teachers nationwide. The Illustrative Mathematics project helps teachers understand what the new math standards mean for classroom learning and offers activity suggestions to increase student success.
William McCallum, a Distinguished Professor and head of the UA’s mathematics department, is leading the project, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – committed to ensuring young people graduate from high school and ready for college – recently awarded it a $3.2 million grant.
McCallum also chaired the team that produced the new mathematics standards and was one of the lead writers.
Illustrative Mathematics gives online users the ability to submit, discuss, review and publish learning activities for students. Contributors to the site can submit a lesson idea – for example, a scavenger hunt activity designed to help kindergartners recognize shapes – and then explain for peers how the activity is linked to learning outcomes and specific standards.
“A lot of people read a standard – that kids should be able to do this or that – but many don’t understand what that looks like in practice,” McCallum said.
McCallum and his leadership team – including Linda Plattner, the project’s Washington D.C.-based executive director, and Kristin Umland, project co-chair and a mathematician at the University of New Mexico – have even higher aspirations for the project. The team anticipates building a sophisticated social networking site that supports a thriving online community of teachers and provides thousands of carefully crafted activities, as well as video clips, more lesson plans, and student work illustrating the standards.
Currently, hundreds of expert volunteers have contributed about 500 activities to the site, which already is receiving about 30,000 hits per week.
While the information is designed to assist math teachers, it’s available to students, parents, math tutors – anyone interested in improving “the teaching and learning of mathematics in this country,” Plattner said.
Each featured activity is vetted and published by a small group, she continued, including at least one classroom teacher and one mathematician, to ensure quality.
“We see this as a nucleus for a community of teachers to become experts in the common core,” McCallum said. “We want our users to share their expertise with each other and help each other learn.”