Students examine development programs for math teachers

Adriana M. Chavez, For the Sun-News Published 10:59 a.m. MT Aug. 4, 2018
teacher with students

Students participate in an activity during the 2017 Summer program. (Photo: Photo courtesy of MC2 staff)

LAS CRUCES – A group of student researchers at the New Mexico State University College of Education have found that New Mexico math teachers who participated in the MathLab professional development program gained knowledge and confidence that ultimately changed their classroom practice and benefitted students in grades kindergarten through 12.

The student researchers work in the Southwest Outreach and Academic Research Lab, which is housed in the College of Education. Students working in the lab have worked with various outreach programs across campus to provide support for research design, survey development and data analysis.

Since last year, student researchers have looked into the effectiveness of the 2017 MathLab, hosted by the Mathematically Connected Communities program, known as MC2. MC2, which relied on federal grant funding to continue operating, continued to work with teachers across New Mexico throughout the school year.

A teacher during the 2017 MathLab summer program guides students through an activity.

A teacher during the 2017 MathLab summer program guides students through an activity.  (Photo: Photo courtesy of MC2 staff.)

The MC2 program contracted with the SOAR Lab to do the program’s internal evaluation for the 2017-2018 school year. Student in the SOAR Lab analyzed data from the summer MathLabs where teachers from across the state engaged in 40 to 80 hours of professional development. These teachers were given both content exams and surveys to measure the impact of the program.

MathLab was facilitated by a team that included mathematicians from NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, MC2 staff, Creative Media Institute faculty and 23 New Mexico educators from the MC2 Teacher Leader Cadre. During the summer MathLab sessions, teachers from across the state are able to watch students as they learn math lessons at various grade levels, giving teachers an understanding of some of the most effective practices of teaching math.

“MathLab was the missing link from education theory to classroom implementation,” said Wanda Bulger-Tamez, director of MC2. “Rather than just learning about mathematics and pedagogy, teachers were able to see it in action with students and witness how innovative, evidence-based instructional strategies really do improve children’s understanding of and joy in learning mathematics. MathLab provided a space for teachers to build their professional knowledge in practical, authentic situations that incorporate all the realities of classroom teachers.”

Teachers were surveyed three times in 2017— before the summer MathLab sessions, after MathLab, and in December 2017. The surveys focused on knowledge of mathematical pedagogy, confidence in math content and pedagogy, and use of effective teaching practices. The subset of 46 teachers who participating in all three surveys was a representative sample of all MathLab teachers.

“Mathlab was a benefit not only to me but also to students,” said Mary Helen Tafoya, a teacher at H.T. Jaramillo Elementary School in Belen. “ I learned strategies that helped my students make meaningful connections to understand numbers and how to solve math problems in multiple ways. Since implementing these strategies, I have had more students look forward to math time and tell me how much they love math.”

SOAR Lab director Karen Trujillo said the data showed there was a statistically significant difference in the teachers’ mathematics content post-exam scores when compared to the pre-exam scores. There was also evidence of growth in the pedagogical content knowledge of the teachers as shown by the change in teacher responses when asked to define student-based learning environments, effective questioning, effective discourse and the Launch-Explore-Summarize approach to teaching. According to SOAR Lab research, most of the teachers retained those gains when they were surveyed again six months later. This was also true when teachers reported their use of these methods in their classroom during the fall of 2017.

“Results indicate their knowledge, confidence, and use of student-based learning environments, number talks, effective classroom discourse, questioning and Launch-Explore-Summary lessons showed significant change over time,” Trujillo said. “Overall, there was a statistically significant increase in knowledge, confidence and use of effective teaching practices from before MathLab to after MathLab. These results further indicate that the teachers improved and maintained significant improvement in all three domains through December 2017.”

SOAR Lab research also looked at the 2017 Teacher Leader Cadre for Mathematics Education, which consisted of 23 K-12 teachers from 13 districts across New Mexico who helped facilitate the MathLab for their colleagues across the state. These teachers met monthly throughout the year to increase their leadership capacity and to plan the MathLabs. This more extensive experience led the teacher leaders to gain even more knowledge that eventually benefited their schools, districts and students.

“The students in the SOAR Lab used various tools to analyze the data for MC2, both quantitative and qualitative,” Trujillo said. “The hands-on experience is invaluable for the students. Each of them brings different skills to the team and we are able to work with the clients to clarify their research questions, develop instruments, analyze information and disseminate information. It has been a great learning experience for all of us and working with a cross-disciplinary team will serve them well in the future. It was exciting for the whole team to see how MathLab had a positive impact on the teachers who participated in the program.”

Bernadine Cotton, a teacher at Tombaugh Elementary School in Las Cruces, was a teacher leader in the program and worked with the participating teachers during the summer labs. She said the experience transformed her teaching “like no other.”

“Having the opportunity to work with fellow teachers to delve deeply into the math content has made me a better teacher,” Cotton said. “I am more prepared to create lessons that engage my students in interactive tasks that require thinking beyond answer getting. I am also able to facilitate the discourse in the classroom in more effective ways than in the past.”

“Eye on Research” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s feature was written by Adriana Chavez of Marketing and Communications. She can be reached at


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