Professor Helps Lead Statewide Program Supporting Elementary Math Teachers

Date Published: 
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cato College of Education professor Drew Polly is working with researchers and instructors across the state to enhance the professional development resources available to North Carolina math teachers.

The “Tools for Teachers” project will take advantage of the classroom experiences and expertise of many district coaches and curriculum leaders working collaboratively with higher education faculty and pilot teachers.  

The National Center for Education Statistics found that approximately 60% of teachers reported attending professional development on standards for less than one day, and only 15% said the training improved their teaching skills. Considering these statistics, Polly, a Professor in the Department of Reading and Elementary Education, says it was clear something needed to be done. 

Tools for Teachers will create kits of resources for the upcoming revision of standards for K-5 Mathematics in 2018. The program will also include 120 hours of professional development for a pilot group of 100 K-5 math teachers. The toolkits will ultimately be available electronically to all public and private schools in North Carolina.

Project collaborators have designed modules formatted as full day and half-day workshops, professional learning communities, and independent study through topic-specific modules.

“With budget cuts in the last few years, many districts have not been able to purchase instructional materials for teachers,” Polly said. “With the adoption of new mathematics standards for elementary school students which will begin in fall 2018, this grant provides professional learning opportunities and resources for every public school teacher in the state.”

The main goals of the project are:

1) Increase teachers’ mathematics content knowledge and knowledge of North Carolina’s mathematics standards for the grade they teach.

2) Increase students’ understanding and accomplishment of grade-level standards evidenced by student work and reflections.

3) Improve classroom instructional practices through implementation of strategies, project materials and activities.

4) Develop sustainable partnerships through networks that enable project writers and teachers to continue to create resources for the Toolkits for Teachers and for districts to use the professional development modules.

UNC Charlotte alumni Nicole Morgan and Kim Jarzombek participated in the first round of summer workshops as pilot teachers.

“The workshops were incredibly beneficial because they were ways of teaching that I can easily come back and implement into my own classroom in order to build deeper critical thinking and algebraic thinking skills in the students,” said Morgan.

The instruction focused on particular math execution tasks, strategies to engage students in math discussion, and 10-minute math talks. The pilot teachers engaged with each other in small groups and make use of the strategies they came up with in their own classroom.

“Throughout this year we are continuing to work together as a group and support each other with adding and changing things within our classroom,” said Jarzombek.


Dr. Drew Polly is Director of Ph.D. Strand in Elementary Education and Elementary Math Graduate Certificate and Co-Director of the UNC Charlotte Professional Development School Network.