Date: Feb 1, 2013 3:51 PM
Author: Jerry P. Becker
Subject: DPS project helps math skills sprout
From The Detroit News, Thursday, January 3, 2013. See
. Our thanks to Ann Garrett for bringing this piece to our attention.
DPS project helps math skills sprout
By Jennifer Chambers
Look inside one Detroit elementary school classroom and see the
unexpected: kids excited about math. It's a squirm-in-your-seat kind
of enthusiasm with students eager to raise their hands, stand at the
chalkboard and solve problems with each other as they tackle
Educators credit the sea change in attitude among youngsters to a
15-week intensive math program in Detroit Public Schools called
In this class, teachers don't offer solutions to problems. Instead,
they constantly question students to get them to think for themselves
and explain their reasoning as part of their answer.
Project SEED is a national nonprofit company that sends specially
trained mathematicians into urban classrooms - places where students
typically are several grade levels behind in math comprehension - to
teach high-level math.
In each lesson, a SEED math specialist asks students to analyze the
problem, using the continual questioning of the Socratic style. The
class is a 90-minute supplemental course, so the students are
essentially getting a double dose of math every day.
Keeping students engaged in class is a constant challenge for
educators, especially in districts such as DPS, where funds and
technology are limited.
Yet in Diana Skinner's fourth-grade Project SEED class at Chrysler
Elementary School, students are smiling ear to ear and appear ready
to jump out of their seats as questions are posed about math.
As student Trey Henry works out a math problem on the chalkboard,
half of the students extend their arms above their heads, wildly
waving their hands and fingers and smiling. Another group rotates
fists in a circle to communicate disagreement, using silent hand
signals that are the kids' way of helping each other solve math
Teachers say most students feel comfortable in the SEED atmosphere,
and hand signals are a safe way for shy students to get involved
Principal Wendy Shirley said Project SEED is successful at her school
because students are engaged. "You see a reduction in discipline
problems. None of them are afraid to raise their hand. You see that
level of confidence," she said.
Daniel J. Mulligan, Detroit director of Project SEED, said a video
study by an international math organization examined classroom
teaching practices. It found that in math, improved learning was
consistently linked to allowing students to struggle.
"Too often, teachers feel compelled to give students the answer, as
opposed to the Project SEED pedagogical practice of letting the
students figure it out for themselves and then explaining how they
arrived at their conclusions," Mulligan said.
The extra support is needed.
According to the Education Dashboard kept by the Michigan Department
of Education, 8.9 percent of Detroit Public Schools students in
grades 3-8 are proficient in math.
A global study released last month revealed American fourth-graders
are performing better than they were four years ago in math and
reading, but students who are four years older show no such progress.
Although the United States remains in the top dozen or so countries
in all subjects tested, the gap between the United States and the
top-performing nations is much wider at the eighth-grade level,
especially in math, said Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National
Center for Education Statistics, which coordinated the U.S. portion
of the international exam.
The study showed that by eighth grade, American students have fallen
behind their Russian, Japanese and Taiwanese counterparts in math and
trail students from Hong Kong, Slovenia and South Korea in science.
Project SEED began in 1963 in Berkeley, Calif., and came to Michigan
in 1970 as a statewide program.
It has been working in DPS since the mid-1980s, reaching about 10
percent of its target audience each year.
Mulligan said independent evaluations in Detroit have shown a
positive impact of Project SEED instruction on Michigan Educational
Assessment Program test scores.
In a one-year study of the program, nearly 90 percent of SEED
students passed the mathematics part of the MEAP, while 79.2 percent
of the comparison group passed, Mulligan said.
Quicken Loans Inc., the Detroit-based online mortgage company that
has a business partnership with DPS, paid for the class. The
company's $13,900 donation covers the cost of the class as well as
professional development for teachers and a parent workshop.
Project SEED expects to have its contract with DPS approved this
month, and plans to provide services to 35-40 district schools,
PHOTO SIDEBAR: Diana Skinner teaches a fourth-grade Project SEED
class at Chrysler Elementary School. The project sends specially
trained mathematicians into urban classrooms to teach high-level
math. (John T. Greilick / The Detroit News)
firstname.lastname@example.org --- (313) 222-2269
Associated Press contributed.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244