The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Four-year math project awarded $2.2 mill grant

The National Science Foundation awarded $2.2 million to Emerging Communities for Mathematical Practices and Assessment, a four-year project developed by Drexel’s School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences, the Math Forum at Drexel, and Temple University’s College of Education.

The goal of EnCoMPASS is to address the national crisis in students’ mathematical achievement. The online program can be adapted to achieve individual, school, district, state and national objectives to improve mathematics learning and teaching.

EnCoMPASS is an online professional teaching community that can help teachers develop their mathematical knowledge and support the mathematical development of individual students. This is done by studying how students solve problems by incorporating enhanced rubrics that provide individualized feedback to students in an efficient and timely manner.

“We are enabling each local community to tap into the growing expertise and resulting feedback and assessment resources of a very large and talented network of engaged teachers. … Our environment will help the teachers in the local math department to work together, benefitting from the collaboration of the international network,” Stephen Weimar, director of the Math Forum in the School of Education, said.

Teachers will be able to connect from virtually anywhere, allowing them opportunity to learn from each other. The quality of teaching needs to increase before there can be a change in the quality of learning. By increasing teachers’ knowledge; teaching them how to analyze, diagnose and organize student thinking; and providing them with ample educational resources, teachers will have the tools needed to better their students.

“[The enhanced rubrics] serve as the basis of the technological infrastructure that will allow teachers to integrate their new knowledge into their daily practice in efficient ways,” Jason Silverman, the program director of Mathematics Learning and Teaching in the School of Education, said.

The enhanced rubrics will allow teachers to assess an individual student’s process of problem solving, something that current basic rubrics are not capable of doing. Teachers will be able to understand particular issues that a student is dealing with when learning mathematical concepts.

Patterns related to student performance will be looked for in the data obtained from these enhanced rubrics. The data will provide concrete context for communitywide discussions about what needs to be focused on to better the students’ learning in a given area and how it needs to be accomplished.

“Rather than simply correcting mistakes and reteaching a method to all students, teachers will be ready to differentiate instruction more effectively for individuals or small groups who share particular strengths or difficulties,” Weimar said.

Math Forum’s Problems of the Week and EnCoMPASS will partner together for the duration of the project. PoW will use EnCoMPASS’ enhanced rubrics to assist in mentoring students, and EnCoMPASS will have access to PoW’s archive, consisting of hundreds of thousands of student solutions and explanations to problems. Teachers normally do not have access to this amount of varied student thinking; the online program makes this possible.

“We recognize the challenges faced by teachers engaged in rigorous assessment and feedback programs and propose specific additions for a custom PoW web-based environment that will assist teachers with providing individualized feedback to their students,” Silverman said.

There are plans for EnCoMPASS to impact both the region and nation. Five districts have been selected to recruit 300 participating teachers, reaching over 5,000 students. There is an annual membership fee of approximately $25 per year to use PoW combined with EnCoMPASS. The program will extend to the Math Forum community, which receives 2-3 million website visits per month.