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Mathematical Sciences Participates in NSF Partnership

‘Focus on Mathematics’ Helps Teachers Help Students 

Prof. Marvin Stick and math major Andrew Larocque judge a Math Expo project.

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In a subject like mathematics, too few schoolteachers have the knowledge and skills to help their students reach high achievement. So, the Department of Mathematical Sciences is a partner in Focus on Mathematics, a five-year program funded by the National Science Foundation, with the goal of improving student achievement by providing mathematics teachers with content knowledge and skills. Several school districts, universities and educational organizations are involved.

Profs. Al Doerr, James (Kiwi) Graham-Eagle, Ken Levasseur and Marvin Stick have joined mathematicians from Boston University, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Education Development Center in this effort. Program evaluation is conducted by a team from Lesley University. 

Each mathematician works with teachers in one of the participating systems: Lawrence, Chelsea, Arlington, Waltham and Watertown. The teachers work in study groups, choosing topics based on the interests and needs of the teachers in each school. For example, a study group of middle school teachers in Lawrence learned some calculus to better understand how their school’s curriculum builds towards calculus. Watertown teachers studied the geometry of voting and presented their work at a national mathematics conference.

As part of the project, Levasseur developed an online mathematical problem-solving course that gave teachers an opportunity to refine their own skills. Teachers from all of the participating districts have taken the course in the past year. 

Seminars, colloquia and summer institutes round out the activities that are open to all mathematics teachers in the districts. Also, the program has made a commitment to involve all students in a mathematics research experience at least once in grades 6-12.  This year, three UML students are helping teachers in Lawrence guide some of their students in developing research projects. 

The centerpiece of the program for students is an annual Math Expo at the Museum of Science; in 2005, 66 projects were on display in Boston, chosen from expos at individual schools. The 2006 Math Expo, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Saturday, June 10. For more details on Focus on Mathematics, visit the web site at