Dr. Mary Margaret Shoaf and Dr. Tommy Bryan, two members of Baylor's Department of Mathematics, have been actively working for several years, and on several fronts, with middle school and high school teachers of mathematics in Central Texas. Their goal is simple: help make hard-working area mathematics teachers even better by providing them with opportunities to learn more mathematics and gain deeper understandings of the mathematics they already know, with the end result being that the teachers will use these new and deeper understandings to enhance the achievement of students in their own classrooms. One example of how both Mary Margaret and Tommy have been instrumental in working with area teachers includes the central roles they have played in the inception of the Central Texas Council of Teachers in Mathematics (Mary Margaret started this organization), an organization for which they both have served as President and that has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception 8 years ago.
Attracting teachers from throughout Central Texas, Tommy and Mary Margaret have more recently (since 2005) been partnering to lead a professional development program. Funding for this program, amounting to more than $80,000 per year, comes from The Teacher Quality Grants Program (TQGP) for higher education, a federally funded source that works through the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to support teaching and learning at K-12 in various areas of mathematics and science. This highly competitive program provides "grants to higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations to promote improved instruction in mathematics and science for Texas schoolchildren by providing professional development for their teachers". Prior to 2005, Mary Margaret had several Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development grants to run similar programs at Baylor.
For each of the past four summers, Mary Margaret and Tommy have had an average of more than twenty teachers visit Baylor for two weeks of intensive training and professional development. In addition, several times throughout the year, these same teachers return to Baylor for additional development. The goal of these workshops, for Mary Margaret and Tommy, has been to sharpen and extend the teachers' knowledge of middle school and high school mathematics. Unlike many professional development workshops, their program focuses on a rigorous, in-depth coverage of topics in mathematics; this is achieved not so much through traditional teaching means (i.e., delivering lectures), but more so through an innovative, nontraditional approach where participants are actively and cooperatively involved in problem-solving/discovery activities, utilizing manipulatives and technology when appropriate. What's a typical day in Mary Margaret and Tommy's summer workshop like? Well, it's not a vacation - for them or for the teachers! The teachers show up early, work hard throughout the morning on new mathematics lessons, break for lunch, and then return in the afternoon to continue their work and to learn how technology can further enhance their new lesson.
Responses from teachers in this program have been positive and complimentary:
"The Texas Teacher Quality Grant Program has far exceeded all of my expectations. Having attended other staff development/continuing education seminars, I can say that I have benefited from this program more than all the others combined!"
"Mary Margaret and Tommy were wonderful teachers. Their patience and concern for each of the participants in the class exemplifies the fact that they are exemplary teachers.
I always felt comfortable with all of the learning experiences that I participated in during the workshop, and I knew that they were always there to help me if I had a problem.
This year's workshop was a great experience and I know that not only will I benefit from the information that I learned, but my upcoming students will also benefit."
"The students I teach in geometry class have told me that their junior high exposure has made their high school experience much easier. Hopefully they will be able to delve more deeply into high school geometry than they have in the past as I make changes to the curriculum that I teach."
"First, let me express how much I appreciate all the efforts and time from both Dr. Shoaf and Dr. Bryan. The past two weeks have been a delightful experience away from the normal pressures of being in a teaching mode vs. these weeks of being in a student mode. Also, teachers who have been out of school for a while have not been exposed to the newer concepts and thoughts, and I enjoyed the learning."
"As the only mathematics teacher for both junior high and high school students in an extremely rural school district, I find myself continually searching for professional development that is worthwhile and capable of giving me new quality activities to use in my classroom. Dr. Mary-Margaret Shoaf consistently delivers exactly this in her teacher quality grant sessions. I am grateful and feel extremely privileged to be a part of her teaching. Ensuring Teacher Quality: Algebra I has improved my teaching in three distinct ways: by giving me a fellow math teacher support system, equipping me with higher level thinking activities, and by training me to think and teach "outside of the box"."
"I have benefited greatly from being a participant in the Teacher Quality Grant under Dr. Shoaf and Dr. Bryan. First and foremost was the rekindling of the excitement of being a teacher and the desire to learn new teaching techniques. Both Dr. Shoaf and Dr. Bryan understand what it is like in the real classroom, not the "ideal" classroom. They made me feel important as a teacher and gave me the encouragement that I don't often receive in the workplace."
"Having just finished my first year of teaching, I have met many new teachers who have been in the profession for some time and have shared their experiences with me while attending this institute. I have learned just as much from the other participants about teaching as I have from this wonderful math program. I hope that you will continue to offer this program in the future."
"The project met and surpassed my expectations! Having only completed one year teaching just math and math labs I was in need of mathematics professional development classes. Not only did I need many "cobwebs" removed from my Geometry skills, I also needed exciting, innovative ways and activities to use with my students. I found both of these areas enhanced after the class."
"An additional, unexpected benefit has been the interaction with colleagues in other schools and districts. There have been many times when I wanted to "push" my students beyond the 6th grade curriculum, but felt I lacked the skills/resources necessary. I now feel as though I have a bank of teachers and Baylor professors who would be willing and eager to discuss mathematics with me and help me if I call upon them."
"This was two weeks well spent in preparation for my teaching career and expectant success for my student to benefit from what I have learned from this session."
"When I accepted to participate in this Geometry Grant, I was both excited and very nervous at the same time. Throughout these two weeks, I found out I knew even less Geometry than I thought that I did and I found new ways to explore some relationships that I did understand. Building from what I knew, I feel as if I have grown a lot which will help my students to grow even more."
"I greatly enjoyed and benefited from the Mathematics Algebra Institute which I attended at Baylor. It was indeed two weeks well spent. I have been a teacher for fourteen years. I have read articles and listened to discussions about the use of manipulatives and other hands-on teaching techniques. But, until this summer I was unable to incorporate them into my lesson plans in an organized and assured manner."
"One of the most important concepts I learned was how to teach important concepts using multiple representations. Students need to see how math concepts are connected and by showing students how a concept can be represented in written form, visual form, and symbolic form it helps them to make that connection."
"Thank you so very much for helping me to be a better teacher, so that I may help my students to reach their highest dreams!"
"This method of discovery and then validating the generalizations developed has made a great impact on me. And there is no doubt that it will impact my future teaching."
"Thank you for all the experiences; each one will help me to become a better teacher."
"This project has been by far the best professional development I have ever had in every possible aspect. It has given me activities to challenge my students, ideas to challenge me and my way of thinking and teaching, and the technology to keep my students and my teaching up to date and learning in ways that stick."
"I left the workshop with a greater knowledge of teaching Algebra, some excellent developmental materials, and the names of a network of teachers that I can collaborate with in the future."
"I feel my students are benefiting through my deeper understanding of the mathematical concepts. I am better able to communicate mathematical ideas and find my students are also improving in their ability to do so."
"It was truly amazing to me when one of my special education students (he is in a regular Algebra I class after being in resource math until this year) said to me, "Miss, why couldn't we have done problems like this all year? This is so easy and makes perfect sense!" Wow!! I truly believe I have done a much better job of teaching functions and making all of the connections because of what I learned from this grant."
"One of the best parts of being involved with the Teacher Quality Grant is the peer interaction. We have been able to spend time working on improving our classrooms and our own school communities by listening and talking to fellow teachers."
"An additional, unexpected benefit has been the interaction with colleagues in other schools and districts. As teachers, we don't seem to make enough time to discuss teaching methods/ways to solve problems with other teachers. This project gave ample time for discussion and growth from each other."
"This project has thoroughly gone above and beyond meeting my expectations. Not only have I learned new ways to approach the methods that I use when teaching geometry, I have also met some very interesting colleagues who have enlightened me with new ideas."
"Anything that I type here will not do justice to the future impact that participation in this Teacher Quality Grant will have on my teaching. This was one of the most awesome workshops that I have ever attended."
"I am making connections within mathematics that I have never ever made before. And that is exciting."
"Overall, attending this grant was again an amazing opportunity for me. I feel better equipped as a teacher, both with knowledge and technology. I am excited about turning my classroom into a problem-solving classroom. I already have several ideas buzzing around in my brain on how I am going to accomplish this. I also know that I have the help and support of many of my fellow teachers in the grant along with Dr. Shoaf and Dr. Bryan to call on at anytime for direction if needed. Unless you are a teacher, you cannot realize how crucial that support system is to your success and your attitude in your profession. THANK YOU!"