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University of Iowa News Release


Nov. 28, 2007

UI's Fi receives grant to improve high school mathematics education in Iowa

Hundreds of high school students across the state of Iowa will benefit from improved mathematics instruction and curriculum thanks to state and federal funding received by a University of Iowa College of Education professor earlier this year.

Cos Fi, a UI assistant professor of mathematical education, received a three-year, $426,000 grant titled "Important Mathematics and Powerful Pedagogy (IMAPP)." He received the grant, which runs now through 2009, from the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and the Iowa Department of Education, which jointly administer Title II grants authorized by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Title II grants are intended to increase the academic achievement of all students by helping schools and school districts ensure that all teachers are highly qualified to teach and to increase the academic achievement of students in mathematics and science by enhancing the content knowledge and teaching skills of classroom teachers. Partnerships between high-need school districts and the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics faculty in institutions of higher education are at the core of Title II improvement efforts.

Fi is one of two professors in the UI College of Education to receive such grants. Brian Hand, a professor in the science education program, received a grant from the same funding sources to promote science and literacy in the classroom. To view a release on his grant and research, visit: (

"The project focuses on deepening secondary school mathematics teachers' subject matter knowledge and helps them improve their pedagogy," Fi said.

Fi said the project addresses the needs of high school mathematics teachers as they work with two important high school mathematics initiatives in Iowa: Every Student Counts and the Mathematics Core Curriculum.

"The fundamental goal of both of these initiatives is for students to develop a deep understanding of important mathematics," Fi said. "Important mathematics refers to the coherently articulated ideas, facts, procedures, concepts, representation, tasks, activities and problems that help learners glimpse the beauty, nature, utility and connectedness of the practice of mathematics. For example, a deep understanding of functions is important to success in high school and postsecondary mathematics and mathematics-intensive disciplines."

The UI College of Education, the Mathematics Department of the Maharishi University of Management and the Great Prairie Area Education Agency are all participating in the project.

Fi said that the project is serving 20 teachers this first year; 40 teachers, 20 of whom are repeat participants, the second year; and 60 teachers, 40 of whom are repeat participants, in the third year of the project. Eddyville-Blakesburg, Fairfield, Harmony, Mount Pleasant, Oskaloosa, and Wayne School Districts are participating in IMAPP in the 2007-08 academic year.

Although the project is planned to work directly with 60 teachers by year three, "the deployment of nuggets of insight from the project in presentations, professional development episodes, and publications will impact many more teachers," Fi said.

"As teachers focus on impacting how people learn, formative assessment, flexibly supported mathematical struggle, teaching through problem solving, and making the mathematics explicit into their practices, students will be afforded the opportunity to engage in worthwhile and meaningful mathematical practices," Fi added. "The idea is to invite students to wade in the waters of the practices of the mathematics community and to think mathematically."

Teachers attend summer mathematics professional development institutes and analyze their Iowa Test of Educational Development data to identify hard-to-learn concepts and ideas that serve as fodder for designing and implementing plans for student learning through a Lesson Study Approach.

"The project combines professional development and systematic data collection and analysis to address mathematics teaching that affords students opportunities to engage in worthwhile mathematical practices," Fi said.

"The state of Iowa is not doing badly when compared to the rest of the nation," Fi said. "However, we have ample room to grow toward meeting the mathematical and educational needs of more of our students."

Fi said that the 2007 Main National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) shows that at fourth grade, Iowa students' average scale score in mathematics was significantly lower than those of students in Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota and Vermont.

"Their average scores were not significantly different from scale scores of grade four students in 19 other states," Fi said. "At grade eight, Iowa students' average scale scores in mathematics were significantly lower than Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont."

"And they were not significantly different from scale scores of grade eight students in another 21 states," Fi said. "So our students are not untouchable."

The project intends to develop infrastructures for teacher collaboration and for repackaging mathematics instruction in ways that enable students to learn more easily.

"We are grappling with how to do less -- quantitatively speaking -- for a much greater gain in mathematical understanding of our students by focusing our efforts on depth and connected breadth, with mathematics in the center," Fi said.

Long-term goals include creating an IMAPP Web site dedicated to the project's activities and artifacts that would be available to the public, especially to teachers, and presenting research findings at professional meetings and professional journals.

Fi hopes that all the work he and his colleagues are devoting to this project will have a lasting impact on math education at the high school level for future generations of students.

"It is exciting to collaborate with such knowledgeable teachers in the state of Iowa," Fi said. "We hope to argue for and sustain the focus on mathematics, as a culture, as a practice and as a way of being. We also hope to find ways to engage students even more in mathematics and to help them understand the importance of mathematics to their futures, whether they go on to become mathematics teachers and professors or simply use mathematics in their day-to-day lives."

Founded in 1872, the University of Iowa College of Education was the nation's first permanent college-level department of education. Since then, the college has gained an international reputation of excellence in programs as diverse as Rehabilitation Counseling, Testing and Measurement, Counseling Psychology, Elementary and Secondary Teacher Education and Higher Education Administration. The College of Education is also home to the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development. For more information, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Cos Fi, UI College of Education, 319-335-5432,; Lois J. Gray, University News Services, 319-384-0077,