February 22, 2008
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Online math program bridges urban-rural gap
In the last six months Metropolitan State College of Denver’s Department of Mathematical and Computer Sciences has achieved multiple milestones for its one-of-a-kind program that uses Web technology and distance education to bridge the geographic gap between Metro State professors andhigh school math teachers who work in Colorado’s rural areas.
Mathematics Prof Jim Loats holds class via Web classroom
“Metro’s Mathematics for Rural Schools Program,” co-designed by Metro State Mathematics Professors Brooke Evans, Jim Loats, Don Gilmore, and Patricia McKenna, uses computers and audio components to facilitate live interactions between five professors and 40 teachers.
Over a five-week period, professors and teachers congregate at their individual computers twice a week for two hours. Through a “white board” on the computer and audio capabilities, the Metro State professors are able to watch and hear how the teachers - located about five hours from Denver - are solving algebra and geometry problems. The high school teachers are able to ask questions, the professors are able to provide direction.
“With most long distance or online programs, students log on, do an assignment and turn it in and there’s no real-time, teacher-student interaction,” says Assistant Professor of Mathematics Brooke Evans. “Through our program, we provide that human interaction. This is a problem-solving course where teachers are expected to dig deeply into the mathematics. Teachers work in small groups to solve meaningful mathematical problems then we
Mathematics Professors from left to right: Don Gilmore, Brooke Evans, Patrica McKenna, Dale Brunsvold; Jim Loats seated
discuss them as a large group online.”
The online rural education program stems from The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which requires “highly-qualified teachers” in every classroom. Meeting this requirement has been especially difficult for rural teachers because of their geographic isolation, small student populations, limited teaching staff, and the need for teachers to teach a variety of subjects. As a result, interactive distance learning has been proposed as a way to help rural teachers fulfill NCLB requirements.
“As word gets out about our program, local and national colleges are approaching us to request information and training on our program” says Evans.
They are not the only ones paying attention. Last fall, the program received a competitive renewal NCLB grant for $273,000. NCLB initially funded the program for $150,000 three years ago. Last fall they also received notice that research on the program will be published in the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) “Monograph Series” in October 2008.
Mathematics Associate Prof Don Gilmore holds class via Web classroom
To kick off 2008, the program received an invitation from the International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) to present at its conference in Monterrey, Mexico, July 6-13, 2008. Between 3,000 and 4,000 mathematics education professionals are expected from 100 countries.
“The ICME brings together math education superstars from many countries and is significant because the event only happens once every four years,” says Evans, who is first author on the piece that will run in AMTE’s Monograph Series. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to showcase the dedication of our professors and the success the program is having with teachers in rural areas, who might not otherwise have been able to learn this new material.”
According to Associate Professor of Mathematics Patricia McKenna, “It’s really about relating to people. It feels like an actual classroom. Teachers report they are using techniques they learn in our classrooms. We were a little surprised how much they wanted to see how to teach like this so they could make it work in their own classes.”
For the teachers who participated last fall, the experience has been invaluable.
“This course has changed the way I teach,” says Chris Dahle. “We get a lot of PowerPoint presentations telling us we should be teaching like this, but this is the first time I have experienced a class taught like this.”
The program has also proven to be cost and time efficient. “It would not be accessible to us if not through long-distance learning,” says Charlie Warren, a teacher at Crestone Charter School in south-central Colorado, who participated last year.
Fellow teacher Anrahyah Arstad concurs. “We are five hours away from Denver. Evening classes would be unavailable to us. If we did travel, we’d need to stay in a hotel.”
This semester the program has relocated to northeastern Colorado serving participants from RE1 Valley School District, which includes Sterling, Fort Morgan, and Weldon. Practicing teachers can take the class for graduate credit.