$1.2 million NSF grant awarded to help recruit and retain diverse math teachers

photo of four male and female students with an overlay of math/STEM equations
Credit: Adobe Stock

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — A group of researchers led by Jane Wilburne, professor of mathematics education in Penn State Harrisburg’s School of Behavioral Sciences and Education, have been awarded a $1.2 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant as part of a national effort to recruit, prepare and retain a diverse workforce of secondary mathematics teachers who are skilled at implementing culturally responsive instruction. Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that connects students’ cultures, languages and life experiences with what they learn in school.

NSF’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program provides funding for scholarships, stipends and programmatic support to recruit and prepare STEM majors and professionals to become K-12 teachers. The program aims to increase the number of K-12 teachers with strong STEM content knowledge who teach in high-need school districts — those with a school that demonstrates a high percentage of individuals from families with below poverty line incomes, a high percentage of secondary school teachers not teaching in the content area in which they were trained, or a high teacher turnover rate. The NSF program funds also support research on the mentorship, retention and effectiveness of Grades 7-12 mathematics teachers in these districts.

The project at Penn State Harrisburg seeks to directly address the nationwide shortage of secondary mathematics teachers and the high teacher turnover experienced by schools serving high-need communities. These are rural or urban communities of higher poverty rates, where classrooms are influenced by the difficulties of their students’ lives.

“National Science Foundation support of this Penn State Harrisburg project will enable us to help find solutions to address a nationwide concern, while also applying our efforts for the betterment of our own local communities,” said Penn State Harrisburg Chancellor John M. Mason. “Our goal is to develop a pipeline of highly prepared schoolteachers and enhance existing knowledge on strategies and practices to help ensure their success.”

Building on research demonstrating that planning for diversity among teachers can promote higher school student engagement and performance, the project will augment the college’s teacher education program to prepare prospective math teachers using innovative teaching approaches that combine mathematical modeling, emerging technologies, translanguaging, and culturally responsive practices.

“We hope this project will enhance our current program and increase the number of certified secondary mathematics teachers who will be well-prepared to make a positive difference in secondary students’ learning of mathematics through long-term careers in high-need classrooms,” Wilburne said. “For this project, we are particularly focused on recruiting 16 racially and ethnically diverse prospective teachers, over the span of five years, who are undergraduate mathematics majors or post-baccalaureate candidates who have an undergraduate degree in mathematics or other STEM disciplines.”

Teacher education students participating in the project will be provided hands-on coursework and field experiences in secondary classrooms at partner schools in the Harrisburg, Central Dauphin, Middletown Area, Steelton-Highspire, and Susquehanna Township school districts. Wilburne said these experiences have the potential to build skills in teaching mathematics and in meaningfully incorporating students’ cultural backgrounds and home languages in school learning. Mathematics coaches who completed the Mathematics Coaching Program offered at the college will provide students in the program with instructional and social-emotional support aimed at promoting their future retention as teachers in high-need schools.

The researchers will share the mathematics curriculum that results from the project through a website, the University’s scholarly repository, professional-development offerings, publications, and state and national presentations.

Wilburne’s co-PIs include Reuben Asempapa, assistant professor of mathematics education; Tyler Love, assistant professor of elementary/middle grades STEM Education; Anita Mareno, associate professor of mathematical sciences. Co-investigators include Brittany Anderson, assistant teaching professor of chemistry and Xenia Hadjioannou, associate professor of language and literacy education.