SU, County Partnering On Common Core Math Course

SNOW HILL — A partnership between Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) and Salisbury University that helps teachers in all grade levels hone their mathematics skills is looking to build off of the success of a similar program from last year.
Representatives from both groups spoke to the Board of Education at the September meeting about what the new course offers in terms of Common Core preparedness and how they would like to see it grow.
MATH 506, “Common Core and Proportional Reasoning,” is “a customized and unique opportunity,” according to Rosemary Heher, the WCPS coordinator of mathematics instructor. The program, which is conducted mostly online, is able to kill three birds with one stone.
“Worcester County teachers need to gain and want to gain a complete understanding of the new Common Core standards in mathematics,” Heher told the board. “We also need to have graduate mathematics courses that allow them to become re-certified. And we also have teachers who are interested in gaining a master’s degree in mathematics from Salisbury University.”
With Worcester continuing implementation of the new Common Core federal standard this year, the program will be open at a crucial time, said Dr. Jennifer Bergner.
Bergner is an associate professor of mathematics and director of Graduate Studies in Mathematics at Salisbury University (SU) and has taken point in conducting the course, which is the spiritual successor of “Common Core and Algebraic Concepts,” which was hosted last spring.
“I guess you would say that I’m a teacher of teachers. I love to teach mathematics but I also like instructing others on how to teach mathematics,” said Bergner. “And my PhD advisor wisely told me one time that you can reach more kids if you teach their teachers. So I’ve taken that to heart over the years.”
Bergen oversees the course, which consists of both online discussion and face-to-face meetings at Worcester Technical High School. The course is both comprehensive and surprisingly flexible, Bergner promised, and is open to teachers from any grade level with any prior level of mathematics experience.
Everything revolves around meeting Common Core standards, which Bergner reminded the Board of Education is really an unchartered frontier right now. But there will definitely be an expanded focus on things like algebra at all grade levels.
“Now, many of you may be thinking of algebra as a high school course but in Common Core there are algebra concepts that we expect children as early as first grade to start having a sense of understanding,” she said.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shifting to Common Core, Bergner admitted, but overall the course has been successful in giving teachers a lens to view and understand the new standards, which can be intimidating.
“They are expected to do different things in different ways,” said Bergner.
Besides the aid of easing into Common Core, the course is useful to teachers who are looking to earn enough graduate credit hours to maintain their certification.
“Maryland teachers are required to earn at least six graduate credit hours every five years, in order to maintain professional teaching certification,” Heher wrote in a memo to the board.
Additionally, there has been a trend in Worcester, she continued, for math teachers pursing master’s degrees to take graduate courses in non-mathematic areas because some feel university-level math courses either aren’t applicable in a K-12 classroom or take place at inconvenient times or locations. The program through SU seeks to subvert both of those problems, said Heher.
The school board was enthusiastic about the initiative with members remarking that the course gives teachers tools that are useful not just in adapting to Common Core but also in promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
Board of Education President Bob Rothermel singled out the need for programs like MATH 506 in easing educators through the transition to Common Core.
“I appreciate you coming in. Phrases like ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘international bench marks,’ they all raise fears and flags, and it’s good to see that you’ve been able to reach in and re-energize and re-invigorate the people that have been taking those classes and the sky isn’t falling,” he said.
Even better news for teachers is that WCPS subsidizes all of the tuition costs for the three graduate credits associated with the program. In designing “Common Core and Proportional Reasoning,” end-of-course surveys from the original “Common Core and Algebraic Concepts” were utilized for assistance in learning what did or didn’t work. There was a lot of educator input involved, said Bergner.
“It’s a very interactive and personalized environment,” she said.
The presentation received the board’s blessing, but funding is still being secured. Should everything line up, the plan will be to offer “Common Core and Proportional Reasoning,” in spring 2014.