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 equations.
Educators credit the sea change in attitude among youngsters to a 15-week intensive math program in Detroit Public Schools called Project SEED.
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 without speaking.
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, Mulligan said. ---------------------------------------------- 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 E-mail: email@example.com