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IES Grant

Title: Algebra Learning for All (ALFA)
Center: NCER Year: 2003
Principal Investigator: Stigler, James Awardee: LessonLab, Inc.
Program: Effective Instruction      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,594,021
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305M030154

The purpose of this project is to create a video- and Internet-based professional development program to help teachers improve mathematics instruction in the middle school grades. International research studies suggest that lessons in the United States rarely involve discussions of rich mathematical problems during which students are asked to explicitly make connections among ideas, facts and procedures, in contrast to lessons taught in countries where student achievement is higher. Although U.S. teachers present just as many rich problems as the teachers in the other countries, they seldom maintain the focus on the conceptual aspects of the problems as the lesson continues. This research team hypothesizes that if teachers would use these rich mathematics problems more regularly to help students make connections among concepts and procedures, rather than converting those problems into tasks using procedures, student achievement might be improved.

The researchers are creating a two-year professional development program for sixth grade teachers to learn how to identify, design, and present problems in challenging forms as part of their regular classroom teaching. Most of the 4,400 students in these Los Angeles area schools come from low-income minority families. The mathematics teachers in these schools all use the same pre-algebra textbook in their classes. The researchers are randomly assigning the 72 sixth-grade pre-algebra teachers to the experimental professional development program or to the school district's traditional professional development program. The researchers are evaluating the impact of the two training programs on: (1) teachers' knowledge of mathematical content for classroom use (i.e., pedagogical content knowledge); (2) teachers' ability to present rich problems in their lessons; and, (3) students' mathematics achievement.

Project Website:


Book chapter

Spencer, J., Park, J., and Santagata, R. (2010). Keeping the Mathematics on the Table in Urban, Mathematics Professional Development: A Model that Integrates Dispositions Toward Students. In M.Q. Foote (Ed.), Mathematics Teaching & Learning in K–12: Equity and Professional Development (pp. 199–218). New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Spencer, J.A. (2009). Identity at the Crossroads: Understanding the Practices and Forces That Shape African American Success and Struggle in Mathematics. In D.B. Martin (Ed.), Mathematics Teaching, Learning, and Liberation in the Lives of Black Children (pp. 200–230). New York: Routledge-Taylor and Francis Group.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Givvin, K.B., and Santagata, R. (2011). Toward a Common Language for Discussing the Features of Effective Professional Development: The Case of a US Mathematics Program. Professional Development in Education, 37(3): 439–451.

Santagata, R. (2009). Designing Video-Based Professional Development for Mathematics Teachers in Low-Performing Schools. Journal of Teacher Education, Theme Issue: Innovative Uses of Technology in Teacher Education, 60(1): 38–51.

Santagata, R., Kersting, K., Givvin, K., and Stigler, J.W. (2011). Problem Implementation as a Lever for Change: An Experimental Study of the Effects of a Professional Development Program on Students' Mathematics Learning. Journal for Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4(1): 1–24.

** This project was submitted to and funded under Teacher Quality: Mathematics and Science Education in FY 2003.