The test scores don't lie. Year after year, Virginia middle school students struggle with very basic mathematics.
In an attempt to improve those scores, four teachers from Harrisonburg Public Schools and four teachers from Page County Public Schools will participate in a pilot program that will attempt to make mathematics less abstract and easier to grasp by providing an earth science context.
"Just linear systems are beyond some kids," said Dr. Eric Pyle, professor of geology and environmental science at James Madison University. "But if I told you what the line represented, the line was the amount of sediment vs. stream velocity, OK, now I can handle that."
Pyle has received $149,577 from the National Science Foundation to test the idea over the next two years. The eight participating teachers will begin training on Monday, June 25, on ways to implement the material. The program requires a math teacher and a science teacher from each of the four participating schools—Skyline Middle School in Harrisonburg, Harrisonburg High School, Luray Middle School and Page County High School—to work in teams, Pyle said.
The program will start with teachers in each team alternating time teaching and observing the other teach so they can discuss how to improve the teaching. In the end, Pyle said, the teachers are improving and the students are the beneficiaries. "If I have these two teachers in a room at the same time and you can't tell the math teacher from the science teacher, then it has worked," he said.
The first year of the pilot will involve organizing and integrating the curriculum and the second year will be spent designing a site-based case study that could lead to expanding the program to more schools and school districts, Pyle said.
"We're trying to change the rules a little bit," he said. "Let's turn this problem sideways and look at it from a different perspective. And that's what we want to do, turn this problem sideways and say, 'What would happen if?'"
To read about more academic accomplishments, check the scholarly news section of Madison Scholar, the online journal of scholarly work at JMU.