University of Rochester

Mathematics Educator Receives Prestigious National Science Foundation Career Grant

June 23, 2008

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a CAREER grant to Jeffrey Choppin, assistant professor of mathematics education in the Department of Teaching and Curriculum at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education. Choppin will receive $598,389 for his research over the next five years as part of NSF's program to help improve the quality of mathematics curriculum and instruction in U.S. middle schools.

The funds will allow Choppin to develop new theoretical and empirical knowledge and to inform efforts to improve middle school mathematics education. His five-year study is designed to increase the understanding of teacher usage of innovative curriculum materials and how districts support the use of the materials. Specifically, Choppin will focus his study on how teachers adapt materials from the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), one of the NSF-funded middle school curricula. In addition to studying individual teachers, Choppin will also focus on the ways in which districts support and sustain the implementation of CMP.

The CMP curriculum emphasizes a developmental approach to learning mathematics concepts by sequencing activities in a way that builds from students' intuitive understandings to more conventional and formal representations. The curriculum consistently emphasizes the connections between mathematical representations, between procedures and concepts, and between instructional units so that key mathematical ideas are developed over the course of weeks, months, and even years. Furthermore, the curriculum situates problems into context so that students use everyday situations to develop mathematical forms of thinking.

"There has been little research on the long-term implementations of NSF-funded curricula, and consequently little is known about what teachers learn by using the materials and the ways teachers can be supported to use them most effectively," said Choppin. "CMP is a challenging curriculum because teachers need to pay close attention to student thinking while managing multiple approaches to problems. Teachers who are most effective with CMP know how to connect student strategies to conventional mathematical terminology and representations, but do so in a way that emphasizes student participation and engagement in the classroom.

"In the cognitive sciences literature, these practices have long been associated with how people learn best. In order to support such complex teaching tasks, districts must provide collaborative teaching environments and continuous access to professional development, and so I will focus on these factors in studying the districts' efforts."

Choppin will use findings from his research to inform the design of professional development and the allocation of district resources to better support teachers so that students have the opportunity to develop a flexible and deep understanding of how and why math works.

As a mathematics educator, Choppin directs the mathematics education program at the Warner School. Prior to joining the Warner faculty in 2003, he received a doctorate in mathematics education from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. In 1995, he was named a Presidential Awardee for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching while teaching in the Washington, D.C. public schools.

The NSF established the CAREER program in 1995 to support the early career development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become academic leaders of the 21st century. The highly competitive national program supports faculty members who most effectively integrate research and education in line with the mission of their institutions.

About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education offers master's and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, counseling, human development, and educational policy. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its Ed.D. programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform.