Nearly 50 teachers from 5 local school districts spent the summer honing their mathematics and teaching skills during Mathematics Literacy Initiative professional development classes. The classes are part of a year-long professional development program based on the nationally renowned Algebra Project. Ohio State Mansfield’s initiative is the only K-8 PD program of its kind in the nation.

The Algebra Project targets high school students in the lowest quartile of performance who can benefit the most from this different approach to mathematics.

Terri Bucci, Associate Professor of Math Education and Lee McEwan, Mathematics Professor Emeritus, at The Ohio State University at Mansfield spread the concepts of Algebra Project to lower grade levels.

“What makes it unique from other Algebra Project programs is that it’s K-8,” Bucci said. “The teachers use the same structures vertically in their districts.”

The initiative implements the Algebra Project five-step process in the classroom. This innovative process uses a shared interactive activity to learn a new math concept, pictorial representations and writing to describe their experience, along with discussion to come up with a symbolic representation of their work.

“I have found that students who don’t usually get a chance to shine in math with a test get to show their work, which allows them to shine in the area they’re good at,” said Christy Walters, second grade teacher at Crestview.

Teachers take either a 3- or 4- day course for credit at the Ohio State University at Mansfield which can be used to obtain a graduate degree, Ohio Math Endorsement or continuing education credit. Teachers then spend two days creating a math lesson, which is then taught at a district math camp.

The Collaborative Application of Mathematics Pedagogy is where the teachers observe the teaching of their new lesson. The opportunity to see students’ reactions is where the uniqueness of the initiative shines.

“Lesson Study is where teachers design lessons and then watch other teachers teach the lesson that the group of them designed,” Bucci said. “It’s a really powerful process. These teachers are actually changing the way Mathematics is taught.”

Teachers report that their students are more attentive, enthusiastic, and involved in classroom activities following their participation in MLI professional development, and the teachers, themselves, are more excited about teaching math. Teachers in a recent program survey also agreed that the quality of their students’ work was noticeably improved.

The future for the MLI as is filled with growth. An Ohio Mathematics Alliance is in the works, as well as national collaborations.

“Right now our goal is to grow the number of districts we’re working with so that we can have even more collaborations with districts in the region,” Bucci said.

As co-directors, Bucci and McEwan are only a part of the initiative. Teachers, principals, and superintendents have come together as change sponsors and agents in an alliance to advance professionalism in mathematics education.

“Terri and I are sort of the figureheads of this work, but lots of people have worked hard,” McEwan said. “I think the important thing is that the teachers themselves see the need for it, and they’re the ones who are going to carry this out.”