Science

Cultivating “Specialists” in Elementary Math

By Sean Cavanagh — May 06, 2009 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Elementary school teachers in this country, by and large, are generalists. That means they’re required to teach everything—math, science, language arts, history, you name it, regardless of how prepared they are in any particular subject. When it comes to math, a lot of people find that lack of expertise pretty troubling.

After all, many elementary teachers leave college having only taken one or two courses in math, at most. Their content knowledge may be pretty shaky, to put it mildly. Yet they’re also expected to provide the essential, ground-floor knowledge of math that young students need to prosper in more difficult math later in school.

Now a new effort is underway is create a cadre of math “specialists” at the elementary level. It’s part of a program at McDaniel College, in Maryland, being led by Francis M. “Skip” Fennell, the former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

The “Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders Project” is offering master’s degrees in elementary math teacher leadership. Fennell hopes to expand the program and ensure the continuing development and mentoring of math “teacher leaders” in Maryland. He also wants to establish a “clearinghouse” of elementary math specialist programs nationally, to examine their practices, successes and challenges. A number of universities around the country have established endorsements and degrees for elementary math teachers. You can read descriptions of them here, along with various types of math certification offered by states. Eventually, Fennell hopes the work of the program will lead the state of Maryland to create certification for elementary, or K-8 math specialists. McDaniel College has been graduating students for years with elementary-specific math training, though they haven’t received state certification for expertise in that particular area, Fennell said.

By the way, yesterday Fennell and Vern Williams talked about elementary math specialists and many other issues during an Ed Week online “chat.” The focus of the discussion was the work of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, on which both of them served.

McDaniel will be revising its courses to try to determine what kind of preparation best suits elementary specialists. It will also be staging summer institutes to train educators working at that grade level. The project’s work will also be reviewed by an external evaluator. In addition, Fennell told me that he will be coordinating his work in Maryland with research being led by Deborah Ball (another former member of the national math panel) at the University of Michigan. He said his institute will develop “modules” to support the work of Michigan researchers on the essential content and classroom skills necessary for math teachers to prosper.

Do you think elementary “specialists” could play a role in improving the quality of math teaching? What barriers exist to bringing them into schools? And what key questions should the McDaniel College effort seek to answer?

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attendance Awareness Month: The Research Behind Effective Interventions
More than a year has passed since American schools were abruptly closed to halt the spread of COVID-19. Many children have been out of regular school for most, or even all, of that time. Some
Content provided by AllHere
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Opinion Four Good Science Teaching Strategies & How to Use Them
Three science educators share their "go-to" teaching strategies, including encouraging student talk & implementing project-based learning.
11 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Science Opinion The Three Most Effective Instructional Strategies for Science—According to Teachers
Three science educators share their favorite instructional strategies, including incorporating a sense of play in their classes.
9 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
iStock/Getty
Science Make Science Education Better, More Equitable, Says National Panel
States must take steps to ensure that all students get a fair shot at learning science, says the National Academies of Science report.
3 min read
Illustration of father and child working on computer.
Getty
Science Q&A Many Schools Don't Teach About the Science of Vaccines. Here's Why They Should
Schools play an important role in confronting misinformation and mistrust in vaccines by helping students understand how they work.
7 min read
Ainslee Bolejack, freshman at Shawnee Heights High School in Tecumseh, Kansas, prepares to receive her first COVID-19 vaccine on May 17, 2021, at Topeka High. Unified School District 501 held a clinic at all their high schools welcoming students now 12-years-old and up to receive their vaccination.
Freshman Ainslee Bolejack prepares to receive her first COVID-19 vaccine on May 17, 2021, at Topeka High School in Kansas. Unified School District 501 held a clinic at all its high schools for students 12 and older to receive their vaccinations.
Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP