Hey teachers - math got you puzzled?

New program may be the key

Date published: 9/29/2017 1:00:00 PM

If you have unpleasant memories taking mathematics in elementary school, you’re not alone.

Your teacher may have felt the same way.

Surveys show that less than 30 per cent of elementary teachers and pre-service elementary teachers describe their own experience of learning mathematics as positive.

Teachers confided in one survey as feeling “high anxiety over mathematics” and struggling to “explain things in different ways if students ‘don’t get it.’”

Now, the University of Regina is offering a new certificate program: Teaching Elementary School Mathematics.

It’s a 10-course, 30-credit hour certificate designed primarily for elementary (K-8) school teachers who teach mathematics.

“This certificate responds to the limited educational means previously available at the U of R or elsewhere in the province to address teachers’ concerns,” says Kathleen Nolan, professor of Mathematics Education in the Faculty of Education.

Nolan, in consultation with colleagues from the mathematics education subject area and the Faculty of Education student program office, designed the certificate program.

Nolan is well aware of the anxieties faced by some elementary school mathematics teachers.

She sought feedback in a research study, which was funded through an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

In that study, Nolan surveyed three school divisions in southern Saskatchewan as well as some stakeholders connected with mathematics education, including parents, to understand perceptions of teaching elementary school mathematics.

The study showed that only about half of the teachers and pre-service teachers surveyed relayed feeling very comfortable with the mathematics concepts they were expected to teach. In fact, most respondents expressed some level of discomfort.

“A majority from each stakeholder group we contacted thought it was very important that teachers develop a deep understanding of the mathematics they teach. This was the prevailing view, especially among parents of children in grades 6 to 8,” says Nolan.

Nolan thinks the certificate program will provide welcome professional development opportunities.

“There are many benefits in connection with more professional development in mathematics for K-8 teachers,” says Nolan. “These benefits include additional qualifications, expertise and confidence, as well as positive attitudes toward and a passion for mathematics.”

This past July, Nolan and Russell each taught one of the 10 courses to officially launch the certificate program—a course in culturally responsive pedagogy and one in mathematical modelling and representation.

The seven students in Nolan’s July class ranged from recent graduates to someone with 30 years’ teaching experience. They agreed that being reminded of the cultural aspects involved in teaching mathematics was eye-opening—a reminder they will take to heart as they look forward to teaching mathematics to a new cohort of youth.

A new course on mathematics education research is currently underway and will introduce students to research on mathematics education initiatives such as teaching through inquiry, Big Ideas and flipped classrooms. In this course, and also in other courses in the program, students will have opportunities to conduct their own classroom-based research.

Learn more about the Teaching Elementary School Mathematics certificate program.

Current Faculty of Education students are also encouraged to apply, either for the full certificate program or to take program courses as electives in their current program of study. Applications are being accepted for the winter 2018 session.

For more information please contact the University of Regina’s Faculty of Education Student Program Office.

This story was written by Costa Maragos, a spokesperson for the University of Regina. It was first published on August 2, 2017, on the University of Regina website. The research is supported by a SSHRC Insight Grant.