From his classroom in Copper Basin High School in Copperhill, Tennessee, mathematics teacher Craig Green can see nothing but pine trees and grass camouflaging the formerly bare hillsides, once denuded by byproducts from community's long history of copper mining, the economic mainstay in an otherwise depressed rural region.
Green belongs to the first of two cohorts of doctoral students currently enrolled in a collaborative program, anchored at the University of Tennessee's Department of Theory and Practice in Teacher Education, to improve mathematics education in rural Appalachia. The third cohort is slated to begin classes in summer 2007. "Mathematics education is an economic engine for rural economic development," says Vena Long, co-director of ACCLAIM (Appalachian Collaborative Center for Learning, Assessment, and Instruction in Mathematics). UT is one of five participating institutions in four Appalachian states and the home of the program's "Capacity Building Initiative."
ACCLAIM was launched in 2001 with funding from the National Science Foundation to provide middle- and high-school math teachers an unprecedented opportunity to pursue a doctorate in rural mathematics education. "We are trying to reach a population that is geographically rooted in rural Appalachia," Long says. The program helps overcome geographic limitations by offering 21st-century technologies in distance education, allowing math teachers to remain in the classroom while they pursue graduate work.
Each summer, the teachers participate in 5-week graduate seminars at one of the participating universities, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Ohio University, UT Knoxville, and West Virginia University. "Everyone involved, from the directors to the students of the participating teachers, has benefited greatly from this program," Long says. During the school year, graduate students pursue traditional graduate courses via Internet resources and stay in close contact through e-mail and Web cams, which allow them to interact face to face in real time, sharing their lesson plans and finding instant support for instructional challenges.
This collaboration, which capitalizes on multiple strengths at the different institutions, is unusual in academia. "This is the first program of its kind in the United States, indeed the world," Long says. "UT is the anchoring institution for the grant because of our department's historically strong doctoral program and our qualified faculty with strong research backgrounds."
The program has two goals: first, to improve the quality of math education in the classroom and, second, to improve the quality of math education for teachers entering the profession. Some of the candidates, for example, take positions teaching in colleges in Appalachia that train teachers, improving math education for prospective teachers. "There are three job openings at the college level for every available candidate," Long says.
Meanwhile, excellent teachers like Craig Green remain in middle- and high-school classrooms, where they use any available means to encourage student interest in math. "I ask my students, do you want to stay in the shop fixing the car," Green says, "or do you want to design the car?" He says the program allows him to benefit from graduate course work at three of the participating universities and to travel coast to coast, from San Diego to Washington, D.C., meeting the nation's top educators.
"I will always brag on ACCLAIM—it has given me a chance to be educated beyond any of my dreams," he says.
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