*Welcome*

Welcome to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Outreach for Middle School Students website

This project is an attempt at gathering, modifying and creating resources to motivate middle school students to learn, and hopefully enjoy, concepts in these areas

## Proposal

### "So That's Why!"---Outreach to Middle-School Students for STEM Education Patricia Teller & David Novick

Department of Computer Science

The University of Texas at El Paso

(teller | novick) @utep.edu

If universities are to enroll, educate and graduate additional students in the STEM disciplines, the most significant gains might be made by increasing the number of students capable and interested in technical subjects, rather than by trying to recruit the decreasing number of students who come to college sufficiently qualified in mathematics. Over the last four months, we have been discussing best-practice solutions to this problem with colleagues from the El Paso Independent School District. These colleagues indicate that the key educational phase is middle school, as students encounter pre-algebra concepts and then algebra. Students end up sorting themselves out by their performance, and the students who fall behind end up graduating from high school uninterested in and unprepared for college mathematics and STEM majors.

The expert insight of our EPISD colleagues and a review of available literature suggest that the key factor in under-learning of mathematics by middle-school students is a lack of motivating examples. "What's the point?" the students ask. The absence of motivating examples may be a consequence of the prevailing method of mathematics instruction, which has been termed "teaching by telling" (Smith, 1996), in which solving problems is a matter of recalling and applying an appropriate procedure as provided by the instructor. This contrasts with the view that effective mathematics instructors are those who can stimulate their students to learn (Mathematical Sciences Education Board, 1989), although students cannot be expected to learn mathematics on their own without instruction (Kilpatrick, Swafford & Findell, 2001). So if neither traditional telling nor purely constructivist approaches work, and if the key is stimulating students to learn, then a promising approach would be to equip middle school teachers of mathematics with examples that are highly motivating for their students. For example, many concepts and techniques could be motivated by the fact that they're needed to create such compelling things as videogames and iPods.

If motivating examples are key, then simply providing generalities such as "this is useful for videogames" is unlikely to be sufficient; our task is to identify and provide specific examples with specific connections to the concepts in each lesson. To this end, we propose a summer program, employing undergraduate students, to develop a bank of multiple, specific, motivating examples for concepts and techniques in middle school mathematics. The students would be supervised by Dr. Teller and Dr. Novick, assisted by two graduate students. The developed bank of examples would be disseminated in the fall of 2009 via a Web site, with specific dissemination to middle school teachers in the EPISD, UTEP faculty and staff who conduct outreach programs, and to AHPCRC partners, who would provide feedback on materials and their usefulness.

Future summer programs would build on this initial effort in two ways. First, new groups of undergraduates would refine existing examples, based on teacher feedback, and develop new sets of examples. Second, undergraduate students from the first summer would (a) help the new crew and (b) serve as counselors for a two-week math camp for middle-school students that would be held in Summer 2010. Should the program prove successful, these "campers" might eventually find their way back into the program as undergraduates.

### Resources

Kilpatrick, J., Swafford, J., and Findell, B. (Eds.) (2001). Adding it up: Helping Children learn mathematics. National Research Council, Washington, DC.

Mathematical Sciences Education Board (1989). Everybody counts: A report to the nation on the future of mathematics education, National Research Council, Washington, DC.

Smith, John P. III (1996). Efficacy and teaching mathematics by telling: A challenge for reform, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 27( 4), 387-402.