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NSF grant supports math coaches in rural school districts

Warner School Earns NSF Grant to Support Mathematics Coaches in Rural School Districts

Mathematics educators in rural districts often work in isolation and lack access to high-quality professional learning experiences. A team of University of Rochester scholars aims to address these education disparities through a new online professional development model for mathematics coaches that can be replicated nationwide. The team, led by Warner School of Education Professors Jeffrey Choppin and Cynthia Callard, along with Julie Amador, a University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene faculty member, received $2.7 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study and provide coaches in rural areas access to high-quality professional development in mathematics.

The four-year project, titled “Synchronous Online Video-Based Development for Rural Mathematics Coaches,” will be an extension of the team’s previous work the past four years in establishing and researching innovative professional learning experiences for rural middle school mathematics teachers. This project will build from that online teacher professional development model to reflect the needs of mathematics coaches.

“The goal of this project is to build upon our work with rural mathematics teachers,” says Choppin, who chairs the teaching and curriculum program at the Warner School, “and to take what we’ve learned from our teacher professional development model and research to now support mathematics coaches. Coaching has become prevalent in the United States in not only contributing to productive teaching practices and teacher quality, but also in improving the learning experiences and outcomes of students.”

The previous NSF-funded project, called “Synchronous Online Professional Learning Experiences for Middle Grades Mathematics Teachers in Rural Contexts (or SyncOn)," funded by a $2.8 million NSF grant, focused on rural middle school mathematics teachers and their coaches. The results demonstrated that the professional development model increased connections between what teachers notice about student thinking and broader principles of teaching and learning, supported teachers to enact stronger levels of ambitious mathematics instruction, and pushed teachers to focus more strongly on mathematics content and student thinking in their instructional practice.

The award is through the NSF Discovery Research preK-12 (DRK-12) program, which provides grants to enhance education in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and computer science through innovative research and development. The four-year funding will support the recruitment, training, and research of three cohorts of rural mathematics coaches from across the U.S. The coach participants will take part in online courses, one-on-one interactions with coach mentors, and video club meetings where they will review and analyze videos of their teaching.

The project is part of the Warner School’s Center for Learning in the Digital Age and Center for Professional Development and Education Reform, and will consist of a team of professional development providers, advisors, and researchers. The team will study online professional development activities to better understand the limitations and benefits of conducting such activities in virtual, rather than face-to-face, settings.

The project has the potential to inform the design of professional development for mathematics coaches across the country who are not typically served by higher education institutions. Findings from the project also have the potential to contribute to research on professional learning in the digital age that extends beyond K-12 education into other areas, such as higher education, the health care profession, and other domains where professional development is needed and would benefit from high-quality online opportunities.

The dissemination of research findings will include presentations at local and national practitioner and research conferences and published descriptions of the online course and guidelines to help scale up the professional development model. Lastly, a working conference in the final year of the grant will bring together higher education research and teaching faculty in mathematics and technology education, experts in related fields, and K-12 coaches from rural districts to share research and practices for implementing online coaching in rural districts nationwide.

Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Choppin, principal investigator, is available for interviews to discuss the professional learning opportunities and research design of the four-year, NSF-funded program, “Synchronous Online Video-Based Development for Rural Mathematics Coaches.”