Improvement in math and science education is a priority in Madison, as it is across the nation.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) training is not only of growing importance to our technology-dependent society, these disciplines also represent esthetically compelling advances in human knowledge that all students should have the opportunity to appreciate.
Since 2003, UW Madison and the Madison School District have been involved in a unique partnership, funded by the National Science Foundation, to reform science and math education from kindergarten through graduate school.
Preliminary results are encouraging. This five-year endeavor, SCALE — System-wide Change for All Learners and Educators — has partners that include three universities and large school districts in Madison, Los Angeles, Denver and Providence, R.I. The NSF made exploring new forms of partnership its key feature.
Improving STEM education has proven resistant to traditional “you do your thing, I ‘ll do mine ” approaches. SCALE ‘s successes underscore the wisdom of NSF ‘s emphasis on partnership.
SCALE incorporates research on student learning and teacher professional development. SCALE puts premiums on increasing teachers ‘ STEM subject matter knowledge and boosting their teaching skills.
In one preliminary study, teachers showed a significant increase in content knowledge after attending SCALE science professional development institutes in Los Angeles.
SCALE partners believe the most important resource in a school is its teachers, an idea that has not always been central to reform. However, the final measure of effectiveness is increased student understanding and performance. In 2009-2010, a randomized study involving 80 elementary schools in Los Angeles will provide definitive data on SCALE ‘s impact on student performance in science.
- UW Math Professor Terry Millar appeared at the Math Forum (audio/video).
- Additional SIS links
- Professor Millar’s webpage at the Wisconsin Center for Education Resarch.
- Clusty Search.
In Madison, SCALE teams of district math teachers and UW-Madison faculty have designed and provided content and in-service teacher professional development institutes. Each institute focused on a set of key concepts in middle school mathematics.
During 2004-06, these teams presented 19 workshops involving about 425 attendees. Teachers showed significant gains in math content knowledge, allowing them to create better learning environments in their classrooms, and UW faculty benefited from these experiences. Due to the success of this program, it has been adapted and extended to elementary mathematics and middle school science.
We also must attend to the preparation of future teachers at our universities, and to the “gateway ” courses, such as calculus, for students aspiring to STEM-related occupations.
SCALE has been supporting partnerships to explore improvements in these areas at our three universities. For example, SCALE is helping cross institutional and cross-disciplinary committees in the redesign of UW math and science teacher content courses at the elementary and middle school level.
The primary SCALE lesson is the importance of meaningful, imaginative partnerships. To quote Benjamin Franklin: We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
Millar is a mathematics professor and associated dean of the graduate school at UW-Madison.