Math Instructors

CSUF Faculty Help Fullerton School District Teachers Make Math Easy As 1-2-3

November 28, 2006
By Debra Cano Ramos


In a star-studded 1980s “Sesame Street” episode, Ernie wants to learn to play the saxophone. Holding both the sax and his rubber duckie in hand, Ernie asks jazz musician Mr. Hoots what to do. Mr. Hoots tells him: “Ernie, my man, you gotta put down the duckie if you wanna play the saxophone.”

Like Ernie, if teachers want their students to learn math, they need to “put down the rubber duckie” so to speak, and focus less on their classroom presentation and more on the students’ mathematics experience, said Marty Bonsangue, professor of mathematics.

That is the message that Bonsangue and fellow CSUF mathematics faculty are giving to Fullerton School District teachers.

“You have to do something different in the classroom to get students excited about doing math,” Bonsangue said. “They’ve got to put down the rubber ducky and engage the students to do the math.”

While traditional math lessons tend to be “teacher-centered,” with students watching the teacher lecturing and doing the math, Bonsangue and his team are helping the Fullerton teachers develop innovative and fun math techniques, as well as best practices, to improve how math is taught.

The lessons are more student-centered, where children make conjectures, use tested hypotheses and draw conclusions based on their own interaction with the subject.

“We’re trying to help the teachers become better practitioners in both crafting lessons and teaching,” Bonsangue said.

Fullerton School District was awarded a nearly $1 million California Mathematics and Science Partnership Grant to improve teacher quality and provide educators with the skills they need to help their students succeed. The school district was one of 17 education agencies to receive the funding, made possible by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The emphasis of the grant is to support algebraic thinking in students in fifth through eighth grades.

As part of the grant, the district partnered with Cal State Fullerton’s Mathematics Department and its faculty to provide intensive teacher training and ongoing in-class coaching. The CSUF math team visits classrooms on a weekly basis to provide continuing support to teachers. Other CSUF faculty involved with the grant program are Kathy Lewis, mathematics lecturer; and Jerry Gannon and Armando Martinez-Cruz, professors of mathematics.

“Many students start disliking mathematics in elementary school. We cannot let this continue happening,” Martinez-Cruz said. “If we want kids to succeed in mathematics, we need to work with every piece at the elementary level, including teachers, parents, schools, principals, districts, teacher educators in colleges, and of course, with the kids.”
Fullerton School District’s Randa Schmalfeld and Sue Albano, coordinators of Educational Services, are the authors and visionaries for the grant.

“Our vision was to create a program that would boost student achievement while enhancing teacher knowledge of mathematics content and pedagogy,” Schmalfeld said.

In August, CSUF math faculty provided coaching during a weeklong Algebra Academy workshop for 50 teachers, which was then followed by a two-week Summer Algebra Lab attended by 450 students from schools across the district.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. We have a waiting list of teachers hoping to participate in the future. Many teachers have said that this was the best staff development activity they ever participated in,” Schmalfeld said.

Next summer, another Algebra Academy and Summer Algebra Lab will be held. The district also is planning to apply for additional funding to continue the program through the summer of 2010, said Schmalfeld, who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees, as well as teaching and administrative credentials, at CSUF.

Gannon noted that he was pleasantly surprised with the teacher reaction at the summer workshop: “It was fun to see some of the teachers go from resistance to embracing math.”

Lewis noted that enhancing the knowledge of participating teachers was rewarding.

“It was gratifying to see the teachers’ interest in math content growing daily,” she said. “The CSUF team is motivated to improve the learning of mathematics at every level and this is an excellent start.”

Jeanny Profeta, Nicolas Junior High School math teacher and department chair, said that she and her colleagues are excited about the grant program and working with CSUF faculty.
“In order to raise student and math achievement in early grades, we need to make sure that, as math teachers, we are consistent in what we are teaching as the students move on to higher level math,” Profeta said.
Profeta, who teaches algebra to seventh- and eighth-grade students, added that teachers and CSUF coaches have developed a close relationship.

“The benefits of having CSUF math professors as coaches and mentors to myself and my peers is that we have highly qualified professionals on our side. We have people that we can bounce ideas off of and get feedback,” Profeta said.

Schmalfeld added that a powerful collegial relationship continues to grow between CSUF faculty and district teachers as a result of the grant program.

“The enthusiasm of Dr. Bonsangue and his team is contagious,” she said. “Our teachers absolutely loved working with them and continue to welcome them into their classrooms. Certainly the vast knowledge of this team has been a huge benefit to our teachers. In addition to that, our teachers have developed a trusting relationship with the CSUF team that really enhances the coaching model we have developed.”

Martinez-Cruz said that, oftentimes, “teachers learn a lot of content, but it rarely makes it to the classroom. In this case, all teachers had the chance to teach what they learned. This is just great.”

Bonsangue said he believes that the new tricks and hands-on activities and lessons teachers are learning will inspire students.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we want kids to be interested in math, to learn math, and to feel that a mathematics-related area is a viable career option.”
Top: Marty Bonsangue and Jerry Gannon. Midde row: Randa Schmalfeld and Armando Martinez-Cruz. Front row: Susan Albano, Kathy Lewis and Leslie Israelson.