Math learning for K-12 students took a historic hit during the pandemic. According to Michele Carney, College of Education associate professor and interim associate dean, math test scores for many students in Idaho, especially those in rural areas or low-income households, haven’t rebounded since kids returned to the classroom.
To help struggling students as quickly as possible, educators in Idaho say they need tailored strategies that are proven to work in the classroom. With a $1.5 million grant from the Idaho State Board of Education, Carney and Joe Champion, professor of mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences, will begin work under the Accelerate Math Learning Collaborative. Carney and Champion, along with a team of math educators from Boise State, will partner with schools this fall. Their goals are to support teachers by developing strategies to not only catch students up in math achievement, but to understand and build on what students learn. The grant will also allow the team to hire three regional math specialists to work with schools across southwest and south central Idaho.
“Schools and teachers want more support for envisioning, implementing and evaluating math teaching strategies to identify what works best in their school,” Carney said. “Our team will collaborate with educators, working with teachers on the ground in schools to create tailored plans that accelerate math learning for struggling students.”
When the team from Boise State sent out a call for schools needing support, 81 schools from 34 districts in Idaho applied for help. The funding allows the team to select 27 schools total across rural, suburban and urban areas to visit beginning this fall. The selection process prioritizes geographic diversity, taking into account students’ socioeconomic status to ensure support for students who need the most help. Results and best practices that come from the two-and-a-half year collaborative project can then be made available to schools across the state.
Student success in math better prepares young Idahoans for college and in-demand STEM careers
Math education researchers like Carney and Champion know that as soon as students fall behind in math achievement, they begin to memorize procedures without full understanding. By working with educators to focus on how each student thinks about math conceptually, teachers can support students to learn procedures with comprehension. This supports students to learn more advanced math, preparing them for college and careers in STEM fields.
“Students who struggle with math achievement can have limited prospects for certain career paths,” Carney said. “Some careers that we know are in demand now and will be in the future may become closed off to them. We want all students to have a bright future in college or careers and beyond.”
How students think about math problems can help them advance
Carney explained that two students can work through the same math problem differently, both arriving at the correct answer, yet one approach may better demonstrate conceptual understanding to support learning the next level of math.
Discovering how each student is thinking about a math problem can help teachers steer students who may be struggling toward strategies that will help them build up to grade level and beyond. These in-classroom strategies, tailored to the unique needs of each school’s student population, are what the Boise State team will collaboratively develop along with teachers.
“We know we need highly knowledgeable teachers who are able to elicit students’ understanding in math in meaningful ways,” Carney said. “This project will leverage the existing capabilities of Idaho teachers to teach strategies that work for them and their students, and we will be able to share these strategies across districts in Idaho.”