Lessons in learning

Lessons in learning

Future teachers are schooled in quality, community in new grant-funded program

Students solve math equations at the white board.

Ismael Rosario ’97 MA is a veteran Lincoln High School math teacher and a mentor to CSULA’s Urban Teacher Residency Program student Tiffany Hee. Meet the teachers in the program below.

Formulating equations for better math education

With the shared goal of improving students’ foundational understanding and interests in mathematics, two Cal State L.A. research teams are employing advanced math skills to address student learning and teaching in a local school district, and train a new crop of educators.

Over the next five years, CSULA Mathematics Professor Debasree Raychaudhuri plans to prepare as many as 40 talented math majors and professionals to become middle and high school teachers in high-needs areas.

Fueled by a $900,000 National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Scholars grant, Raychaudhuri and her colleagues in math and education have developed a program that combines an innovative curriculum—drawing upon students’ understanding of advanced arithmetic—with a support network to better guide and prepare them for the reality of the field.

Raychaudhuri says that in the MOEBIUS (Mathematics on Education Based Integrated Understanding Scholars) project students learn the three R’s: math content (rigor), tools for making content meaningful to students (relevance), and how to utilize advanced mathematics skills in foundational courses so not to lose their own knowledge (retention). Students also have the added bonus of receiving financial support for their studies—up to $20,000 over two years—and of enrolling in the blended program, which allows students to pursue a math degree and California Single Subject Credential simultaneously.

For more details about the project, or to learn who is eligible to enroll visit: /sites/default/files/academic/math/moebius.

Mathematics Professor Borislava Gutarts said she first became aware of the need to improve algebra skills when she started teaching calculus on campus. Her students, she said, struggled in calculus because they didn’t have a solid understanding of basic algebra concepts.

“Algebra is a foundational subject,” she said. “That means that you cannot do well in calculus if your algebra is shaky. You have to have a strong base in order to build up.”

To address the issue, which Gutarts says limits what many math and science professors can cover in class, she has teamed up with colleagues, student researchers and the Montebello Unified School District to analyze high school students’ performance in Algebra over several years. The goal of the A^3 (Active Approach to Algebra) project is to identify problem areas and present solutions to better guide teachers in providing the groundwork for future math studies.

“We want to be able to figure out what is holding students back,” Gutarts said.

For more details on the A^3 project, go to http://aaa.mspnet.org/.

All eyes in education will be focused on Cal State L.A. this year as the University rolls out into the classroom its first cohort of 20 educators trained in a pioneering education model that draws inspiration from medical residency programs.

Propelled by a five-year $8.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the University’s Charter College of Education launched the Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency Program in summer 2010 to strengthen teacher preparation and student academic achievement. In a departure from traditional teacher training programs, the 15-month graduate-level program couples an intensive training and community support program with a complete school year of working as resident-teachers.

“We knew going into this that it was a big endeavor,” said Diane Haager, professor of special education and counseling, and the co-principal investigator for the grant. “But we really wanted to reconceptualize our approach to teacher education and we thought that this would give us an opportunity to take our understanding of teacher preparation and meld it with a new direction.”

Students in the residency program have been placed in six middle and high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The district is one partner in the grant, which also brings together the Center for Collaborative Education, the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and three community organizations. While in the classroom, resident-teachers will receive a $20,000 stipend for their work. (Hear from some of the resident-teachers below.)

The goal is to prepare teachers ready to enter high-needs Los Angeles public schools and teach math, science and special education. Upon completion of the program, students are asked to commit to teaching for three years in the district.

“This is really a different approach because they are learning in-residence,” said Professor of Curriculum and Instruction A. Dee Williams, who is also curriculum director for the grant. Williams explained that while working in the classroom, students will also be reporting to classes and sessions on campus two nights a week, and working with community organizations to better understand their students and families, and the environment in which they are teaching.

“They are surrounded by more support, for a longer period of time…and that will help to make them well-versed in the community and the tools needed to access a community even if they go elsewhere,” he said.

At the end of the five-year grant, program officials said they hope to have cumulatively enrolled and trained 250 teachers—all of whom will graduate having earned a teaching credential and a master’s degree in education. Students admitted through the rigorous candidate selection process are expected to already have bachelor’s degrees in their teaching disciplines. 

The University’s Urban Teacher Residency Program was developed from the residency model in medical training because research supports the benefits of learning in practical and tangible ways, program officials said. Research also shows that teacher quality is a key factor in improving student achievement.

“It’s been really great because we are working in tandem,” said Daniel Shalk, who is working as a teacher-resident at Stern Math and Science School. “I’m not just a glorified TA. You want the students to see you as a teacher—and they do.”

Shalk’s classmate and colleague at Stern, resident-teacher Su Hyun Cho added: “The most wonderful thing about this program is the community that comes with it. It’s not just the community of the school, the students and the organizations, but among the resident-teachers. It’s a rare thing, but I am sure that even after we become teachers in the future, we will still share notes, lesson plans and experiences from the classroom. And that’s a great resource for a new teacher.”

Cal State L.A. was one of only five Teacher Quality Partnership grantees selected from a pool of 17 California applicants. Three of the four other successful proposals came from California State University campuses—Chico; Dominguez Hills; and a joint effort by Bakersfield, Monterey Bay and San Luis Obispo. Nationally, only 28 of 172 proposals were funded.

“Both at the federal and local level, they are taking a good hard look at this model to see if this could be a more effective approach to teacher education,” Haager said.

Teachers assist a student in class

Resident-teacher Su Hyun Cho and program director Diane Haager help a student with his math problem.

Meet The Teachers

  • Headshot of Mac Thang.

    Mac Thang
    Resident-teacher, math
    Stern MASS

    “I didn’t want to just get thrown in and have there be no support,” he said. “(Through the program) I am hoping to learn to just be comfortable with the students and build a good relationship with them.”

  • Su Hyun Cho assists students in class.

    Su Hyun Cho
    Resident-teacher, math
    Stern MASS

    “I am honored to be here. The most wonderful thing about this program is the community of it. It’s not just the community of the school, the students and the organizations, but among the resident teachers. It’s kind of a rare thing, but I am pretty sure that even after we become teachers in the future, we will share notes, lesson plans and experiences from the classroom. And that’s a great resource for a new teacher.”

  • Photo of Daniel Shalk observing class.

    Daniel Shalk
    Resident-teacher, science
    Stern MASS

    “It’s a huge learning experience. Especially to see Mr. Diodati’s approach. I watch him, and I am like, man, I was boring. I was a boring teacher. …As a teacher before (in parochial schools), I was very lecture based. To be able to see how he incorporates his antics, his personality into his lessons is great. He is a hard act to follow—but they matched me with the perfect person.”

  • Headshot of Titus Ume-Ezeoke.

    Titus Ume-Ezeoke
    Resident-teacher, science
    Lincoln High School

    “What I am doing now, every lesson plan, I take and I am writing it down for use when I have my own classroom. I am picking up elements from her style of teaching and management.”

  • Headshot of Tiffany Hee.

    Tiffany Hee
    Resident-teacher, math
    Lincoln High School

    “I still have a lot to learn. Mr. Rosario’s model is different. To him, it’s not about pacing, it’s about student learning!

    Students will get bored if you make them work, work, work. He makes them clap hands with him… I think it’s a good idea to get attention and keep them awake. He also uses his own experiences, shares parts of his life.”

  • Ismael Rosario ’97 MA
    Mentor teacher, math
    Lincoln High School

    “I am very happy to know this program is in effect and it’s helping people to come to a very demanding profession. If you put very competent people out there without support, you are going to lose them.”