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Spring 2004
Beyond Rhetoric
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Drawing on extensive research about the teaching and learning of mathematics, Center X and LAUSD officials worked with the UCLA Department of Mathematics to develop a curriculum intended to enhance mathematics subject knowledge among kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers and familiarize them with the state's newly approved math textbooks.

"It's hard to teach what you don't understand well," says Priselac, who heads the professional-development program in mathematics instruction in Center X.

The curriculum also aims to make teachers better aware of how children learn math. It encourages teachers to implement new teaching methods, such as asking questions in a particular way that generates discourse, while carefully listening to students' responses for clues on how to reach them. "When you understand that as a teacher, you understand how to push (students) to the next level," Priselac says.

Teachers, for example, are encouraged to use number sentences to gauge student learning. A sample question might read: 8 + 4 = ___ + 5. How a student responds "tells us what they understand about the 'equals' sign . . . a key piece of understanding mathematics," and a key guidepost for additional learning, Priselac says. If a student responds "12," the teacher knows he or she incorrectly believes that a correct answer always follows the equals sign. When a student responds "7," he or she "understands that the equals sign means 'the same as,' " Priselac says.

More than 6,400 LAUSD kindergarten, first- and second-grade teachers have completed the program since April 2001 — approximately two-thirds of all LAUSD K-2 teachers, according to the district.

The keys to the success of LUCIMATH, Priselac says, are the program's foundation in extensive research, its comprehensiveness and the interaction it promotes among teachers to improve their skills. These concepts have been applied to other continuing-education collaborations between UCLA and other school districts and in other grade levels, as UCLA attempts to build on the improvements seen in LAUSD second-grade math scores.

"We still have a lot of work to do," Priselac says. "This is where we needed to begin; this is not where it ends. We saw gains (in math scores), and we want to continue to see gains."

Phil Hampton

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