From The Detroit News, Thursday, January 3, 2013. See
http://www.detroitnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/201301031115/SCHOOLS/301030371 . 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 problems.
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
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
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)
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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