FARMINGTON — A new graduate program designed to prepare math coaches for elementary schools and help raise student math skills is being launched at the University of Maine at Farmington.

The Maine Mathematics Coaching Project has six applicants for the two-year pilot program, Sandra MacArthur, UMF director of educational outreach, said. Three applicants are from western Maine school districts.

The program is starting with 15 applicants, nominated by their school district, from prekindergarten through eighth grade, she said.

While there are 58 math coaches, sometimes called math specialists or interventionists, in the state, there is no training to help that person succeed, MacArthur said. Often a really strong teacher or one who enjoys teaching math is asked to step in to the position, she said. 

As a coach, they also need to understand adult learning, building relationships with other teachers, content and how to bring about change, she said.

“Teachers serving as math coaches often are no longer teaching in a regular class and do not have a coordinated network of support,” MacArthur said in a release. “This program was created to prepare them with the best research-based practices, to connect them with what individual teachers are working on in the classroom and to help put those practices into action.”

The course starts this summer and will look at what the role means, how to work with and present ideas to other teachers and how they might respond, Shannon Larsen, UMF assistant professor of elementary mathematics education, said. Larsen is the on-campus instructor.

Maine students’ math scores lag behind those in other New England states at the fourth- and eighth-grade proficiency levels, according to the 2014 Educate Maine report.

“By giving today’s math coaches what they need to be successful, we’re better preparing our students to learn the math skills they’ll need for the (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) jobs of the future,” Larsen said in a release.

Two summer institutes, two and three days in length, will be held at UMF.  Some online work to complete three graduate courses over the two years will start in June.

UMF intends to hire a coaching trainer to visit the teachers’ school districts over the two years to ensure the new math coaching skills are being used effectively, Larsen said.

Larsen hopes the training will also help school coaches build connections with other coaches across the state, she said.

The work can look different from one school to another but math coaches are released from their regular teaching duties to work with other teachers, she said. They may team teach or help identify math goals, observe a teacher and offer feedback, help plan a lesson, examine student tests and identify gaps in student knowledge, she said.

The program began when School Administrative District 17 Superintendent Richard Colpitts came to MacArthur soon after she started at UMF in 2013. He presented the idea to train teachers to become coaches, she said.

She agreed with the need and eventually they put together a small group comprised of people from UMF, school districts and the Maine Department of Education to discuss how to start a program.

It is a concept used nationally. For the past 20 years, the University of Maine has trained literacy specialists and UMF used that model, MacArthur said.

For more information on the Maine Mathematics Coaching Project, visit the UMF website at: http://www2.umf.maine.edu/gradstudies/maine-mathematics-coaching-project/

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