Math Matters is a comprehensive, long-term professional development program.
The program addresses teachers’ knowledge and understanding of mathematics
as well as teachers’ ability to deliver effective standards-based instruction.
We work with schools and districts over time to develop their capacity to sustain
systems of professional learning in mathematics. Math Matters improves teachers’
knowledge of math and their ability to transfer that knowledge so that students
can master state standards. We believe that schools and districts must continuously
build on their knowledge and experience to improve student achievement at every
grade level and in every classroom. Schools and school districts have dramatically
improved their student achievement in mathematics after making the commitment
to implement the components of Math Matters.
The professional development Math Matters provides to schools is successful
because it uses practices that research has shown to be effective in raising
student performance. Math Matters’ theory of action, displayed in the
Figure 1, is to increase students’ achievement by improving teachers’
knowledge and practice in the classroom.
During a two-week Math Matters academy and practicum, teachers and principals
learn adult-level mathematics, effective classroom instructional strategies,
and how to plan and develop standards-based assessments and lessons. During
this time, participants also practice what they have learned in a classroom
setting with their colleagues. Directly after the academy and practicum, participants
continue practicing the skills at their own school site under the guidance of
a math coach. The math coach models instruction for teachers, observes the teachers
as they practice the skills they have learned, and help teachers to become more
self-directed and reflective learners. To continue the ongoing nature of the
professional development, teachers return to regularly scheduled mini-academies
that further enhance their knowledge in mathematics, pedagogy and coaching.
The professional development offered by Math Matters begins by teaching teachers
adult level mathematical knowledge. Regardless of the topic, effective teachers
know more about their subject matter than ineffective teachers (Brophy, 1991;
Fennema and Franke, 1992; Darling-Hammond, 1997 and 2000). In mathematics, teachers
that have a greater understanding of the subject matter can have an effect on
student achievement (Monk, 1994). When teachers have a deeper understanding
of mathematics, which they do not always develop at a university, they are better
able to teach students conceptual as well as computational math skills (Ma,
L. 1999). Teachers with a stronger understanding of the conceptual underpinnings
of mathematics and why students may make mistakes are also better able to teach
all students and provide students with examples in a variety of ways (National
Research Council, 2000). Professional development can increase teachers’
content knowledge; however, studies have shown that not all professional development
is equally effective. Professional development in mathematics has a larger impact
on student achievement when it focuses on specific academic content, when teachers
have substantial opportunities to learn about the academic content and how students
learn the subject matter, and when it is connected to the curriculum students
will use (Cohen, and Hill, 2001; Kennedy, 1999). These areas are emphasized
by Math Matters in the academy and practicum as well as in follow-up sessions.
In addition to deepening teachers’ mathematical content knowledge, Math
Matters works with teachers to broaden their instructional delivery knowledge.
The Math Matters training increases teachers’ repertoire of effective
instructional strategies and improves their ability to plan instruction aligned
with state standards. How teachers teach makes a difference in student performance
(Good, 1983; Wang, Haertel, and Walberg, 1993). But more specifically, teachers’
choice of instructional strategies can have a bigger impact (Marzano, Gaddy,
and Dean, 2000). Math Matters presents teachers with specific strategies in
management, involvement, focus and feedback (MIFF). The management and involvement
strategies help teachers increase the amount of time students are actively engaged
in learning (Cotton, 1990; Evertson, and Harris, 1992). The focus and feedback
strategies help teachers improve their questioning techniques and create a positive
learning environment (Cotton, 1989; Marzano, 2000). In addition to effective
delivery strategies, Math Matters helps teachers learn how to plan instruction
effectively. Brophy and Good (1986) note that the articulation of learning goals
to students, monitoring student work, and careful lesson planning are hallmarks
of effective teachers. In Math Matters, teachers learn how to design a strong
curriculum of well planned lessons, aligned with state standards, so that students
reap the benefits (Marzano, 2000).
When participating in Math Matters, teachers have multiple opportunities to
practice their newly learned skills in a safe environment. Providing time for
teachers to practice new skills leads to their increased use in the classroom
(Joyce, and Showers, 1984). As Kutner (1992) states, “Teaching strategies
must be modeled and practiced many times before they are internalized. When
learning new instructional techniques or procedures, participants should first
be allowed to practice them in a safe environment in simulations and role plays,
with opportunities for positive and constructive feedback.” Teachers are
allowed the opportunity to embed the instructional strategy and mathematical
content knowledge learned during the academy and practicum as they implement
them in their own classrooms with the support of a math coach.
Math Matters provides professional development for teachers to become reflective
practitioners and self-directed learners. The teachers learn by reflecting upon
and examining their own practice and impact their teaching has on student outcomes.
To enhance participants’ learning and refine their practice, each teacher
works with a coach similar to the way outlined by Joyce and Showers (1980 and
1996). The coach regularly models instruction and provides instructional feedback
to the teacher. Coaches also use the “cognitive coaching” model
developed by Costa and Garmston (2002) to shape and reshape teachers thinking
and to improve their problem solving capacities. Math Matters coaches help teachers
to think through their teaching strategies as well as the mathematics content
and determine the what strategies are critical and what mathematics is essential.
By introducing the coaching model at a school site, benefits can accrue not
only to the coaching recipients but to the school as a whole by improving the
school climate and fostering interest in change (Showers, 1985). Teachers engaged
in reflective practice can improve their sense of teaching efficacy, which often
translates into increased in student performance, especially for low-performing
students (Chase, Germundsen, Brownstein, and Distad, 2001).
Math Matters has had a strong, positive impact on the achievement of students
in a number of schools and districts. For example, in just two years, the West
Contra Costa Unified School District in California saw a twenty-nine percent
increase on the Stanford– 9 mathematics assessment in classroom where
Math Matters training and coaching had occurred. Classroom that did not have
training or coaching from Math Matters did not see any significant increase
in their scores.
In Providence, Rhode Island, Math Matters has been in place at the Vartan Gregorian
Elementary School teachers for five years, 1999 to 2003. In each year the percentage
of students that have met or exceeded state standards has grown markedly each
year compared to the district as a whole.
Percentage of Students that Met or Exceeded Math Standards
Providence School District, Rhode Island
1998 - 2003
Math Matters also has a strong impact on teachers and teacher
practice. Our focus is to develop teachers who understand how to embed procedural
skills with conceptual understanding and mathematical reasoning so that students
truly learn mathematics. Participants who have participated in Math Matters
“I liked the examples that were given to apply management in the
classroom. They are common sense, but sometimes we need that reminder to ‘let
go’ and have the students do the work.”
“A lot of the information was ‘universal’ to teaching,
rather than just mathematics.”
“I now believe I am capable of making the needed shift from teaching
the processes of mathematics to teaching the concepts, number sense, and processes.
I did not believe I could understand it and, since I was successful in math
without the understanding, that it wasn't really necessary to teach my students
that way (denial). I've dreaded algebra and integers in the classroom because
of this. Now I am excited about the opportunity to teach them. I am looking
forward to the future in-services and coaching experiences.”
Math Matters works with districts and schools that are committed to long-term
professional development in mathematics for teachers and administrators. We
work with teachers to improve their knowledge and practice. We also work with
administrators to develop instructional leaders who know how mathematics is
to be taught and how to observe teachers using instructional techniques and
strategies so that all students learn. Over time, participation in Math Matters
has a profound and lasting impact on student achievement.
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