New Mathematics Education Program Offered

The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is launching a new graduate program designed to train students how to teach mathematics at the community-college level.

In 2002, the department faculty surveyed its students, alumni and 39 Southern California-based community colleges and found there is a significant interest and need to teach graduate-level math students practical pedagogical skills.

“Several alumni who are teaching at community colleges were very supportive of this program and wish they had it when they were enrolled here,” says Barbara Shabell, chair of Mathematics and Statistics. “At least half of our grad students end up teaching at community colleges.”  

The department is adding an emphasis in mathematics education to its master's in mathematics program. The emphasis would require students to take rigorous graduate-level math courses in addition to a series of courses designed to make them effective teachers.

The emphasis is also designed for graduate students who are planning to earn a Ph.D. and secondary math teachers who wish to take on leadership roles in math education.

The need for highly qualified math teachers is evident throughout the state in all levels of K-16 education, and work is being done to increase those numbers. The California State Universities and California Community Colleges recently signed a compact to align their programs more to make it easier for community college students to transfer smoothly into a CSU program. The partnership is part of a larger CSU initiative launched in 2004 to at least double the number of K-12 math and science teachers over the next five years to a minimum of 1,500 new teachers in these fields by 2009-2010.

Aside from the new program at Cal Poly Pomona and one at Cal State San Diego, which has a joint mathematics education Ph.D. program with UC San Diego, there are few other graduate programs designed to prepare students to teach at community colleges and go onto a Ph.D. program.

A number of California State Universities offer graduate programs in mathematics education, but theyare designed mostly for prospective K-12 math teachers, Shabell says.

Members of the math faculty began to research the need for this program a few years ago when they heard anecdotal evidence suggesting community colleges gave preference to prospective faculty candidates who had formal pedagogical training in addition to training in their discipline.

To see if there was validity to the claim, they set out to survey several Southern California-based community colleges.

Of the 39 community college math departments surveyed in 2002, 21 responded. Of the 21 schools, 57 percent indicated they were not satisfied with the formal mathematics education training of their faculty candidates.

The survey found that community colleges want future faculty members who had knowledge of various teaching styles and could teach to a diverse student population. The colleges also want professors with knowledge of reform strategies, ways in which to teach rigorous mathematics, as well as classroom management and communication skills, Shabell says.

Using the feedback from the survey, mathematics faculty developed the program's course outline. Five new courses have been developed, and a sixth course is being revised to fit the program. One course was offered this fall and another will be offered in the winter quarter.

“We are really looking forward to our first graduating class in this emphasis,” Shabell says. “We are eager to see the impact these graduates have in the profession.”