SOE News

Center for Mathematics and Science Education dedicated to strengthening teaching, learning, schools

Thirty years ago, state officials in North Carolina became concerned that inadequate education in science and mathematics was hampering the state's efforts to flourish and expand its economy. One-third of state’s high school mathematics and science teachers and nearly half of the junior high school mathematics and science teachers were not properly licensed for the subjects they were teaching. Few students were graduating from North Carolina’s high schools prepared to pursue careers in mathematics, science, technology and engineering.

To address these concerns, the North Carolina Mathematics and Science Education Network was formed in 1980, and centers were established at several UNC institutions around the state.

Since its founding in 1981, the UNC-Chapel Hill Center for Mathematics and Science Education (CMSE) in the School of Education has worked to strengthen schools by providing professional development programs for K-12 mathematics and science teachers and enrichment programming for underserved middle school and high school students interested in mathematics and science. Its mission covers the entire state but most of its programs have focused on serving teachers and students who live within commuting distance of Chapel Hill.

For teachers

One of 12 centers statewide, the UNC-Chapel Hill CMSE is currently working on two major projects in conjunction with neighboring public school systems.  Both programs are designed to provide local teachers with supplementary workshops and summer classes that explore different ways of teaching.

Through a partnership with the Center, Person County Schools are working on a project called “Making Geometric Thinking Happen.” Funded by a recent addition of a $61,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, this program allows CMSE instructors to provide Person County’s middle and high school mathematics teachers with job-embedded professional development. This means that the professional development is delivered in-school with demonstration lessons and lesson study and discussion during the teachers’ planning periods and after school.  

Ann Crawford, clinical professor of mathematics education, is leading the program in conjunction with center director Russ Rowlett and others. 

“In projects of this kind, the University can help teachers and school administrators apply best practices to the problems of greatest concern to them,” Rowlett said.

A large part of “Making Geometric Thinking Happen” includes a page on the Center’s Web site where Person County educators can access different problem sets and worksheets for use in their classrooms.  The worksheets include mathematical problems and situations that have been proven to help students learn geometry. 

Part of the problem-solving technique encouraged is the ROPED method for five-step problem solving.  Adapted from SOLVE by Brian Enright, the ROPED method teaches students to:

  • Read the problem,
  • Organize the facts,
  • Plan,
  • Execute your plan and then ask,
  • Does it check?

The addition of the recent grant will allow the partnership with Person County, which began in August 2007, to continue through August 2009. Another extension, through July 2010, also has been requested.

Another major focus for the Center includes the continuation of the SITE Geometry workshop for high school geometry teachers. SITE Geometry is one of the Statewide Institutes in Teaching Excellence developed by the NC-MSEN.  

Now in its third year, the SITE Geometry workshop will be offered to high school teachers in June 2009. The workshop will be presented by Jan Crane of Riverside High School in Durham and Mary Neill of East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill.

The five-day workshop will include content and pedagogical strategies for geometry as it is outlined in the N.C. Standard Course of Study. Teachers taking part in the workshop will receive a notebook of ideas for activities for their future students.  Also, they will receive a copy of Geometer’s Sketchpad, an instructional teaching software application for geometry.

“These institutes are designed to strengthen teachers’ knowledge of the subject they teach as well as improve their teaching skills,” said Rowlett.

For students

Since 1988, the Center has housed a Pre-College Program, a student encouragement program in mathematics and science serving students─particularly underserved students─of grades 6-12 in the Alamance/Burlington, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Durham and Orange County school systems. You can read more about the Pre-College Program’s activities and accomplishments in a related story.

Looking to the future

Over its 28-year history, CMSE has evolved from a small center offering summer workshops for local middle school teachers to a robust center offering year-round programming and serving more than 1,000 K-12 teachers and 500 students each year.

For many years, the Center competed for funding from the Eisenhower Professional Development Program of the U.S. Department of Education (which was eventually abolished when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed in 2001). Year after year, the UNC-Chapel Hill Center led all others in the amount of Eisenhower funding received and the level of programming provided.

The Center has successfully shifted its focus over time to meet the changing needs of teachers and schools. When National Board Certification for teachers was introduced, the Center began offering courses to help teachers prepare to pursue National Board Certification. When the No Child Left Behind legislation was passed requiring all teachers to be “highly qualified,” the Center began offering professional development opportunities to help mathematics and science teachers meet the new standards.

Rowlett thinks the future lies in research-based professional development. “We should be doing projects that lead to new knowledge about best practices, and support direct and immediate implementation of those practices,” he said.