Thursday, January 2, 2014

Build-your-own math courses prepare teachers for common core

photo of Grouse Creek schoolhouse
Travel to in-services was hard for Cathe Runyan, co-
head teacher of this little schoolhouse in Grouse Creek.
(She provided this photo.)
The Elementary Mathematics Teachers Academy at Utah State University opened earlier this year, offering fully-online professional development to teachers wherever they can be found—even Grouse Creek, Utah.

That’s where Cathe Runyan was when she built her own online course through the academy. For Runyan, it was a chance to hone her teaching skills in a small town, a three-hour drive from Utah State University (and even farther from Salt Lake City or Ogden). She is co-head teacher of a tiny schoolhouse with nine students.

“I live in the middle of nowhere, or maybe on the edge of nowhere,” she said. “Traveling to in-services is really challenging.” She also liked that she could tailor her course to her own interests—which in her case included teaching multiple grades. “Teaching them all at the same time, I really need to be on my game and know what I’m doing.”

The academy offers 100 modules that address specific topics. Teachers can select from the list to build their own instruction. Three modules equal one Master’s credit from the School of Teacher Education and Leadership in the Emma Eccles Jones College of Education and Human Services at USU.

The modules are structured to follow the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, so they would benefit teachers from all over the United Sates. Teachers agree that the modules helped them understand and appreciate the Common Core—and to help math become a real concept to children.

“I won’t have to have the book as a main support,” said Karee Brighton, a certified teacher and stay-at-home mom who took the course to keep up to date while she is out of the classroom. The modules helped her see that math, like reading, has its own fluency. She feels better equipped to help students develop it.

Runyan agreed. Her experience with the academy has already made a difference in her teaching. “In the old days, math was playing a game with numbers … but if you put students in a real-life situation they didn’t know how to apply that knowledge.” The methods she learned allowed children to see how math works in the real world. “Real life is a set of story problems.”

Emma Bullock is executive director of Mountainville Academy, a 750-student public charter school in Alpine, Utah. She didn’t take the course, but she saw its effects on a teacher who did. Like Runyan, that teacher was in a classroom with students at different grade levels—some advanced first graders were mixed in with the second graders. The teacher also wanted to prepare her students for concepts they would need to master in third grade.

 The academy helped the teacher reach those goals, Bullock said. “She was able to see how the core worked together from grade to grade. She was able to see the cohesiveness of it.”

The school helped pay for the teacher’s instruction—and Bullock said she would absolutely do it again. “I think it would be a great benefit, particularly for our school where we have many classes for multi-grade students.”

For more information on the online courses, visit the Elementary Mathematics Teachers Academy website.

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