WSU Tri-Cities professor gets $260,000 grant to develop math teaching tools

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 11, 2013 

A professor at Washington State University's Richland campus was awarded $260,000 by the National Science Foundation to help develop new teaching materials for middle school math students.

Amy Roth McDuffie, a math education expert in the College of Education's Department of Teaching and Learning, is one of several researchers from four universities working on the project. Her share of the grant is only a portion of the $2.2 million provided for the research.

With Washington and most other states working to establish a universal curriculum, publishers need to print new textbooks that will help students while also melding with a teacher's work in the classroom. Roth McDuffie said her group's research seeks to make the new materials as useful as possible.

"Anytime you write textbooks, you hope they're being used to support the curriculum," she said.

Roth McDuffie said textbooks and the other materials teachers use, such as prepackage lesson plans and materials, have always been designed to support what's being covered in class.

But until recently, it could be hit or miss for publishers to put out books that supported what was being taught in a specific grade level in various parts of the country.

"We didn't really have widespread agreement for what should be taught when," Roth McDuffie said. "Even a concept as basic as multiplication might be introduced as early as second-grade or as late as fourth-grade."

The Common Core State Standards, being implemented across Washington state and the nation during the next few years, are expected to eliminate that problem. That means, though, that schools will need new textbooks, tablet apps and online programs to match.

Roth McDuffie and researchers at the University of Rochester, Michigan State University and Western Michigan University will work with dozens of teachers nationwide to determine what the new materials should look like. While Roth McDuffie is specifically in charge of developing tools to collect data and analyze it, she said she has a role in every portion of the project.

Elizabeth Nagel, assistant vice chancellor for professional programs at the Richland campus, said Roth McDuffie's work is on the cutting edge and aligns with the university's goal of supporting K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, education in the Mid-Columbia.

"What makes our campus look a little bit different from other campuses is that we're intricately connected to serving our communities," Nagel said.

Degen Bushman, a math specialist in the Pasco School District who has worked with Roth McDuffie in the past, said it was sometimes difficult to find good teaching materials. Most publishers focused on providing materials for the biggest states, forcing him and others to wade through textbooks and lesson plans to make them fit with Washington's standards.

That will hopefully change with the coming of Common Core and with the work being done by Roth McDuffie and the grant's other researchers.

"It's an exciting time in education," Bushman said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver

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