A Circle in the Delta
A Math Teachers’ Circle extends a Math Science Partnership.
Liza Cope
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In 2013, the College of Education and Health Science at Delta State University (Cleveland, Miss.) was awarded a threeyear Math Science Partnership (MSP) grant to provide professional development for math teachers in grades 68. This program included a twoweek extensive summer institute, three Saturday work sessions, a monthly twohour online discussion opportunity, and three classroom coaching visits. Participating teachers earned four hours of graduate credit and 10 continuing education units.
In 2013, the first year of the grant, the mathematical focus was number, operations, and algebraic thinking. In 2014, the focus was geometry and measurement; in 2015, statistics and probability. In addition to the changing mathematical content, the grant also focused on the Mississippi College & Career Readiness Standards and best practices for implementing and assessing these standards.
The summer institute was offered annually to two cohorts, each lasting two weeks. Instructors included Delta State University math professors along with current and retired middle school and high school teachers who shared successful strategies and techniques from their classrooms. Representatives from local industries—including real estate, aviation, photography, agriculture, and factory production—also dropped by to give professional learning presentations.
The overall goal of the project was to increase math scores among students in grades 68 and to better prepare them for high school mathematics instruction, college readiness and career development. By 2015, 34 teachers from 24 schools across 11 Mississippi counties had participated in the program.
In 2014, during the second year of the MSP grant, three Delta State University professors – Dr. Liza Cope, Dr. David Hebert, Dr. Clifton Wingard – and two teachers from the MSP program – Whitney Janous and and Kathleen Lott – began plans for creating a Mississippi Delta Math Teachers’ Circle.
A Math Teachers’ Circle would further enrich teachers’ experience of mathematics. Teachers would be able to experience openended problem solving firsthand in lively discussion sessions led by mathematicians. In so doing, we hoped teachers would feel empowered to bring more problem solving into the classroom—a key component in student learning and engagement in mathematics.
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In summer 2014, our team traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a weeklong intensive training hosted by the American Institute of Mathematics. The next year, we launched the Mississippi Delta Math Teacher’s Circle with a twoday summer immersion program in July 2015 and six Saturday afternoon Circle meetings throughout the 20152016 school. The programs served roughly 25 teachers, all former participants of the Delta MSP program.
The Math Teachers’ Circle and the Delta MSP program complemented each other and shared similar goals. Both aimed to develop a culture of professional learning, to deepen teachers’ math content knowledge, and to increase use and understanding of the Mississippi teaching standards.
There were also key differences between the programs. The Math Teachers’ Circle was less formal and involved more shared leadership. Often, Circle meetings were planned and led by teachers, giving them an opportunity for creative thinking and reflection. Although Circle meetings had a general agenda, the activities were less structured and there was significantly more flexibility in the schedule than with the Delta MSP. Participants in the Delta MSP were earning graduate credit, so they had many formal assignments and assessments to complete. This caused some participants stress and anxiety. The Circle meetings were more relaxing, filled with fun problemsolving and engaging conversations.
In 2016, Delta State University was awarded another threeyear grant to continue our work with the Delta MSP. One major change in the 20162018 programs is that the participants will include elementary as well as middle school math teachers. We also plan to launch an annual Delta MSP conference with invited speakers and a variety of peerreviewed presentations. These annual conferences will be open to the public. We hope that the annual conferences will provide opportunities for local teachers to build connections. We also aim to use these events to recruit participants for both the Delta MSP and the Mississippi Delta Math Teachers’ Circle.
The Math Teachers’ Circle also continues into the 201617 year, with some changes. We opened membership up to undergraduate students majoring in secondary mathematics education and to elementary and high school teachers. We are eager to use our increased membership to help strengthen local K12 and university partnerships. Another transition that occurred is that MTC members (instead of the leadership team) have begun to run partial or entire meetings on their own. We have been very impressed with the interesting and innovative presentations our members have led!
We plan to have another six Circle meetings this year, on Saturday afternoons at 2 PM. This day and time was voted on by members, because it directly follows the MSP professional development sessions. We are excited to continue this important work of supporting teachers in their professional and mathematical growth through both formal and informal means.
This article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2017 MTCircular.
Liza Cope is an assistant professor of mathematics at Delta State University and a leader of the Mississippi Delta Math Teachers’ Circle. 
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