Winning
Calculation
Syracuse
University teams with the GE Foundation and the Syracuse City School
District to enliven math lessons
How
to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying may be a clever
title for a Broadway show, but in reality there are no easy shortcuts
to career preparation in today’s global marketplace. In fact,
with the increased need for mathematical understanding in business,
engineering, and information technology, students are often inadequately
prepared for college or a career when they leave high school. “As
educators, we must increase our focus on the link between mathematics
and quantitatively oriented careers in business and management,”
says Joanna Masingila, a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor
appointed jointly in the School of Education and the Department
of Mathematics in the College of Arts and Sciences.
Susan
Kahn
Fowler High School ninthgrader Breanna Kelly works on
a math assignment using a graphing calculator.

In
2001, the GE Foundation launched the Math Excellence Program to
help raise mathematics achievement levels among public school students,
particularly among those from underrepresented populations. “Through
the Math Excellence Program, the GE Foundation seeks to support
comprehensive K–16 [kindergarten through undergraduate college]
strategies that result in long–term, sustained impact on the
skills, interest, and participation of underrepresented students
in engineering, information technology, and quantitative fields
in business,” says GE Foundation Executive Director Roger Nozaki.
“Since the program’s inception, the foundation has committed
more than $12 million in grants to programs that focus on strengthening
and expanding diversity in these areas.”
With
a $357,300 Math Excellence Program grant, Masingila formed a partnership
with the Syracuse City School District—where improving math
test scores is a focus of effort on the part of teachers and administrators—to
help enhance the math skills of students in grades 712. Together
they developed the DataDriven Algebra project, which is designed
to improve success in algebra—knowledge that is essential to
understand, interpret, and use quantitative information. The project
focuses on aspects of algebra that are linked to reasoning, communicating,
and representing data.
A
portion of the grant money was used to purchase graphing calculators
to help students solve and better understand math problems. “Any
mathematical relationship can be represented in three forms: a table,
a graph, or an equation,” says Julia Hallquist G’02, a
math teacher at Fowler High School. “Using graphing calculators,
we can see all three simply by pushing a button. This helps students
understand the nature of algebra, and lets them see how an equation
can represent a slope or a curve.” Graphing calculators—unaffordable
to most students in the district—make the study of mathematics
more interesting and provide a tool that is commonly found in math
classrooms of more affluent school districts.
The
threeyear GE Foundation grant also supports:
• continuing education and other professional development opportunities
to help math teachers keep current with the latest teaching methods
and strategies;
• two SU graduate assistants to provide teachers with classroom
support; and
• a consultant to help refine teaching techniques.
“My
students are now studying the mathematics of the forces involved
in bridge construction—an instructional concept that was developed
by the DataDriven Algebra project,” Hallquist says. “This
project has made a tremendous difference in how I teach.”
Currently
in its first year, the project also has created excitement among
the student participants. “My students are more absorbed in
their math studies since becoming involved in the project,”
Hallquist says. “They love being able to see math as less of
an abstraction and more as a useful tool.”
—John
White
