Big Shoulders Fund

Big Shoulders Fund

What is the Big Shoulders Fund (BSF)–UIC Mathematics Initiative?

The BSF–UIC Mathematics Initiative (BSF-UIC MI) is a partnership which began during the 2014–2015 school year between the Big Shoulders Fund and the University of Illinois at Chicago. The BSF-UIC MI was initially intended to support comprehensive mathematics improvement in grades 6–9 to participating elementary schools and high schools, but has since been extended to support teachers in kindergarten through grade twelve. Support for the BSF-UIC Mathematics Initiative has been provided by the I. A. O’Shaughnessy Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, and the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.

Professional development and coaching have been evaluated through ongoing feedback and surveys from participants. In numerous surveys, the majority of participants rated the professional development as excellent and very engaging. Through the surveys, participants reported seeing improved math knowledge, greater student engagement, and students who were better able to work in groups (BSF-UIC Evaluation, 2016–2017). The majority of teachers reported that they gained a deeper understanding of high quality mathematics instruction and that their repertoire of instructional strategies had grown due to program participation. Administrators reported seeing improvements in similar areas, including promoting student dialogue, student thinking and problem solving, and student engagement (BSF-UIC Evaluation, 2018–2019).

When I look at my students, particularly seventh and eighth graders I have noticed the following changes in my students: 1) the ability to persevere, even when the problems are tough 2) using math vocabulary, conversations in class are math driven 3) students are thinking differently about math, and have developed problem-solving skills 4) the students’ math knowledge has increased [and] 5) I have become more reflective in my teaching. (Teacher, BSf-UIC Evaluation, 2016–2017).

In surveys, teachers gave the coaching supports extremely high ratings, with 93% of the respondents finding the coaching very useful. Administrators reported seeing increased student engagement and enthusiasm for math, increased dialogue and discourse, and improved math vocabulary (BSF-UIC Evaluation, 2016–2017).

The support was amazing. The coach has been helpful by providing examples of Math Talks to me in our school. She really tried to push me out of my comfort zone and examine what I was doing and why. …. She was very observant of my students and we were able to have meaningful discussions about what I can take as a next step. She gave me a lot of suggestions on facilitating student discussion that were unique to my own classroom. (Teacher, BSF-UIC Evaluation, 2016–2017).

One of the professional learning opportunities in which teachers participated is peer collaboration. In a peer collaboration cycle, a team of teachers, with the support of a UIC coach: 1) plan a lesson together, select a focus and a team member to teach the lesson, 2) visit the classroom with a focus on observing student thinking and learning, and 3) come together after the lesson to reflect on student learning. Many of the teachers have found the  peer collaboration process to be useful. Following are their perspectives from one of the sessions.

It was interesting to be able to follow one group of students as they navigated through the problems. You could really see how they share ideas…what it looks like as they build — you can better analyze how they engage in the task, suggesting how to improve it.

The teacher has done a great job of having the students collaborate. Being able to collaborate with other teachers makes me see different strategies to use.

The UIC team has continued to offer both face-to-face and virtual professional development to teachers in kindergarten through high school; it  is designed to promote research-based practices and nurture a collaborative network of mathematics educators.

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