Marilyn Strutchens, COE professor, leads NSF grant to improve mathematics outcomes for teachers and students

February 6, 2018

Strutchens interacts with students

Marilyn Strutchens, a Mathematics Education professor at Auburn, is part of a four-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant for Improving Undergraduate STEM Education. The nearly $1.6 million grant also includes the University of South Florida and the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities as collaborators. Strutchens, the Emily R. & Gerald S. Leischuck Endowed Professor and Mildred Cheshire Fraley Distinguished Professor, is the Principal Investigator at Auburn, whose portion of the grant is $560,586. She is also the lead for the entire proposal.

“The full name of the grant is ‘Attaining Excellence in Secondary Mathematics Clinical Experiences with a Lens on Equity,’” said Strutchens, a veteran educator and researcher who serves on the Advisory Committee for NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR).

The EHR Advisory Committee provides advice, guidance, recommendations, and oversight concerning NSF’s programs for education and human resource development. This includes effective and efficient strategies for assessing the condition of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education in the U.S., evaluating program results, achieving overall program balance, and long-term strategic planning. The Advisory Committee membership consists of two dozen science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education experts.

“This grant is an extension of my existing passions and priorities, which are studying how we can best educate teacher candidates to go forth into a diverse world and be the best teachers they can be. So, our grant will look at different ways we can help develop outstanding teachers who will enable all secondary students to reason and make sense of mathematics.”

Clinical experiences enable teacher candidates to teach, observe other teachers, collaborate with mentor teachers, and reflect on what they learned from their coursework in a classroom setting. Research shows that clinical experiences have been cited as more influential on long-term teaching practices than coursework.

“This project will examine how different types of clinical experiences affect preservice teachers’ implementation of equitable teaching practices,” she said. “About two dozen universities and their school partners will conduct the study, setting the stage for evaluation of different clinical experiences across multiple institutions. The wide range of the consortium, and the number of preservice teachers involved, will lend great credibility to the results of our efforts.”

Members of this consortium are already engaged in the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities’ (APLU’s) Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership (MTE-P) under the direction of Howard Gobstein, Executive Vice President of APLU, and W. Gary Martin, Emily R. & Gerald S. Leischuck Endowed Professor of Mathematics Education at Auburn University. Auburn University is a member of the Central Alabama Mathematics Teacher Education Partnership, which includes faculty members from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, school district partners, and other universities.

Strutchens is the leader of MTE-P’s Clinical Experience Research Action Cluster (CERAC). CERAC uses a networked improvement community (NIC) design to develop clinical experiences that build teacher candidates’ skills in equitable teaching strategies, with the goal of increasing the success of secondary school students in meeting college- and career-ready standards in mathematics.

“We are examining the effectiveness of multiple approaches to clinical experiences,” Strutchens said. “Of course, it will include methods courses in which mentor teachers and teacher candidates experience common learning opportunities, as well as the paired placement model, in which two teacher candidates are paired with a single experienced mentor teacher. Additionally, the two teacher candidates will give each other feedback and support.”

A professional learning community evolves among the three teachers with this approach. All stakeholders (students, teacher candidates, and the mentor teacher) benefit from this collaborative and reflective model.

A third learning model will include co-planning and co-teaching, in which teacher candidates gain greater pedagogical content knowledge and knowledge of students through ongoing collaboration and communication with mentor teachers. They work together to plan, implement, and assess instruction. Data will be collected to guide the continued improvement of the models following the NIC design and to determine the effectiveness of the different clinical models.

Implementation and evaluation materials for the three models will be disseminated to APLU’s broader membership through MTE-P’s national network of 103 universities and their K-12 partners who have the common goal of transforming secondary mathematics teacher preparation.

“This grant will allow us to improve the mathematical preparation of thousands of secondary school students as we learn how to better provide secondary mathematics teacher candidates with more effective clinical experiences,” Strutchens said. “This is especially the case for those teachers who, like me, work over the long term to ensure that all students succeed in this increasingly important field, regardless of where they are from or what school they attend.”