Spring 2003
PNWMAA Newsletter

Meeting at Whitman College
2004 Meeting in Alaska
High School Math Excel
Project NExT
Math for Business Decisions
MAA PREP Workshops
MAA's PMET Program
Math Awareness Month
Section Logo Contest
Section Officers



High School Math Excel

by Carmen Schabel, University of Portland

Math Excel is a widely used program at the college level in which students in courses such as calculus enroll in workshops that supplement their regular lectures and coursework. In the workshops, students work collaboratively in small groups on activities which are substantially more challenging than the standard homework assignments and exam questions from their class. The program is based on the ideas of Uri Treisman and modeled on the Emerging Scholars Program at the University of Texas at Austin. Dave Damcke and Carmen Schabel from the the University of Portland direct a project which is adapting the Excel program to high school and middle school mathematics classrooms.

Carmen Schabel is in her second year on the faculty at the University of Portland. She has deep roots in our section, having received her Ph.D. in mathematics education from Portland State University in 2001, an M.A. in mathematics from the University of Oregon, and a B.S. in math from Seattle Pacific University. She is a fellow in the MAA’s national Project NExT program. Carmen has received funding to support the High School Excel program through Oregon’s Higher Education Dwight D. Eisenhower Professional Development Grant Program.

High School Excel at the University of Portland is a program that allows university students to assist in high school and middle school mathematics classrooms. University students facilitate small group discussions to help students learn mathematics.

The program originated with Dave Damcke observing the Math Excel program at Oregon State University. In Oregon State’s Excel program, graduate students assist while undergraduates work in small groups to solve challenging mathematical problems. The graduate students provide guidance and ask questions, but never give solutions to the undergraduates. Dave observed that the undergraduate students had confidence in their ability to do mathematics as they worked with their peers. As a former high school math teacher, Dave knew many students who were capable of doing the mathematics, but lacked the confidence to work without his direct assistance. He believed that the Excel model would work at the high school and middle school level by using university students in place of the graduate students.

Fall of 2000 was the first semester of the program. Dave found a math teacher at a local high school who was willing to try the Excel model with her students. The following semester, two teachers at another high school joined the program. The program has grown to involve eight high school teachers at two schools, four middle school teachers, and 50 University of Portland students this spring.

Currently the program has four aspects: university students assist in high school and/or middle school classrooms on a weekly basis, weekly meetings with the university students and directors of the program (Dave Damcke and Carmen Schabel), monthly teacher meetings, and monthly Pizza Dialogues.

Some university students work with only one teacher once a week and others work with teachers at both the middle and high school levels. Students are either paid through the America Counts program or education students can receive field experience credit. Each week, teachers send the university students lesson plans so that they are prepared for assisting in the classrooms.

In the weekly meetings with the university students and the directors of the program, students share about recent classroom experiences, discuss ways to solve problems that occur in the classroom, and practice using questioning strategies to aid small group discussions. Regarding the weekly meetings one student wrote, “Being able to share our experiences in the classes I found very helpful. Being able to talk about the problems we face and how to work them out is great. We learn from fellow students who face the same situations.” For example, a university student shared that she works with a student who frequently gets distracted from doing his work. She was unsure if the work was too easy for him or if he just did not know how to do the math. Students at the weekly meeting were able to give her some ideas for dealing with the situation.

The directors of the program meet with the group of teachers once a month. During these meetings, the teachers share how the Excel program has been working in their classrooms. One of the teachers has been with the program since it began and she is a great resource for the other teachers as they learn how to most effectively utilize the university students in the classroom.

At the Pizza Dialogues, university students, teachers, and the directors discuss the program while enjoying a pizza dinner. Teachers are available to answer students’ questions about pedagogy, curriculum, and classroom management. Students are also able to give the teachers feedback concerning specific students and the classroom in general.

The Excel program is having a positive impact on all involved. The high school and middle school students are receiving the extra attention they need to succeed in their math class and the teachers are learning how to utilize other adults in the classroom. Our university students are gaining valuable classroom teaching experiences. Students have commented that they enjoy working in the different classrooms because they are able to see each teacher’s style of teaching and how they approach issues in their classrooms. Also, the university students are learning about teaching in an environment that is different from the schools that many of them attended. The three schools we are working with are racially diverse, and most students are eligible for a free or a reduced price lunch. One student wrote, “I really enjoyed the experience of a new school environment (I have never been in an ‘inner-city’ school before). I was very surprised when I first walked into the school — I didn’t expect to be seen as a minority.” Finally, our mathematics department is benefiting from the program — students who were previously interested in elementary education now want to teach middle school math.

In the future we hope to continue to help high school and middle school students to think mathematically and expose university students to the possibility of careers in mathematics education.

For additional information, contact Carmen Schabel at schabel@up.edu.

Do you have a successful program that you would like
to share with the other members of our section?
Contact Brian Gill (bgill@spu.edu) about including
an article in a future issue of Matters Mathematical.


Copyright © 2003
Pacific Northwest Section, Mathematical Association of America.
Send questions or comments to Brian Gill, Newsletter Editor, or call (206) 281-2954.