Mathematical modeling, in which mathematics is applied to solve real problems, is a mathematical practice, used by mathematicians and specified in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. The need to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics at the elementary level is well documented. Moreover, very limited attention has been paid to how to teach mathematical modeling in the early grades. The importance of this mathematical practice, in which mathematics is applied to real problems, is recognized in the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and is a foundational tool used by all mathematicians. This project will design and deliver professional development for elementary grades mathematics teachers and will result in curriculum modules that focus on mathematical modeling in the elementary grades. The project is based on mathematical modeling as it is practiced in the workforce and will yield research results regarding how teachers learn about and implement the modeling process. The project will offer an online repository as a clearinghouse for materials produced as well as a virtual interface to help facilitate a dialogue among teachers about the teaching, learning and practice of mathematical modeling.

The research question at the heart of this study is: How does targeted professional development in mathematical modeling affect teacher practice? The project is an institutional partnership, with collaborating partners including: George Mason University, Harvey Mudd College and Montana State University with three respective collaborating school districts, Fairfax County Public Schools, Pomona Unified School District and Bozeman Public Schools. The project will provide high-quality teacher professional development in mathematical modeling through a content-focused summer institute and collaborative coaching through follow-up Lesson Study. The work will have broad impact as it engages elementary (grades 2-6) mathematics teachers, special educators, and teachers of students with Limited English Proficiency, to focus on: a) modeling mathematics ideas aligned to the Common Core mathematics content, classroom strategies, and student assessment standards; b) developing problem-based assessment and performance-based tasks for mathematical modeling in elementary grades; c) creating activities to differentiate instruction with parallel tasks that enrich 21st century skills in modeling (communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking) aimed at increasing the academic achievement of diverse populations (special education, gifted, Limited English Proficiency and economically disadvantaged); and d) developing need-based on-site and online web-learning professional and curricular resources (video clips of exemplar lessons, real-life math connections and concepts modeled using virtual manipulatives). The professional development web resources and tools will be available to school divisions across the respective partnering states as they are being developed and then disseminated nationally. The project will use three levels of evaluation: an external evaluator who will conduct an annual review of project documents, including research protocols and data analysis methods, advisory board meeting agendas and supplementary materials, and reports to the funding agency; an internal review by a team member experienced with models for evaluating professional development; and peer review by an expert Advisory Board. This tri-phase model of evaluation will maximize project resources and expertise.