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NSF Grant to Help Connect Pittsburgh Teachers With Mathematicians

By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

The National Science Foundation is providing $8 million to help the Pittsburgh, Pa., school district improve math instruction at the secondary level and close the opportunity gap faced by minority and low-income students. One key dimension of the initiative is to bring together teachers with mathematicians to strengthen teaching practices in the subject.

The grant under the NSF's Math and Science Partnership program is focused on grades 6-12, with $3.4 million expected to go directly to the district, and the rest to a collaborative effort among several organizations, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The remaining funds will go to the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center, a nonprofit that is partnering with Pittsburgh schools, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Duquesne University. Those partners would use this portion of the grant to help students and teachers in the district.

This grant will add to two previous grants the district received from the U.S. Department of Education since 2010 that in combination supplied about $2 million. The district will use the new funds to build on their previous work, continuing their partnership with EDC.

"That is one of NSF's intentions with the grant, that this is something that we tackle together," Eden Badertscher, a senior project director at EDC told me in a phone interview.

Over the next five years, four-week immersion programs will be held for math teachers in the district during the summer, where they will work with mathematicians from the university partners. As part of that collaboration, the participants will explore best practices for reaching disadvantaged students and improving their math achievement. 

"Teachers should feel that they have the support, knowledge, and capacity to reach every student," said Badertscher.

Jeff Ziegler, the district's curriculum supervisor for grades 6-12 mathematics, said, "We're really trying to work toward a solution and building change at a systemic level."

The grant affords the Pittsburgh district the opportunity to bring mathematicians from the partnering universities, including Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, into their classrooms and "to have a conversation with teachers around a common goal," said Ziegler in an interview. "And we hope that, in partnering with these universities, that their learning builds as well."

Pittsburgh's school district isn't the only one benefiting from the National Science Foundation. WestEd Math Pathways and Pitfalls, a K-8 intervention curriculum based in Oakland, Calif., recently received a 4-year, $3 million grant from the NSF to promote algebra readiness among middle school students.

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