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GUAM — A professional development partnership between Harvard University and DODDS-Pacific/DDESS-Guam began bearing fruit late last month when 40 elementary school teachers started an online class in an innovative program to incorporate algebraic concepts into elementary math lessons.

The teachers, from schools on Guam, Korea, Okinawa and Japan, began the first of six two-week learning modules of the course “Teaching Math Fundamentals on the Way to Algebraic Thinking in Elementary School.” The course is aimed at giving the teachers “a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of underlying mathematical concepts,” said Steven Bloom, deputy director of DODDS-Pacific/DDESS-Guam. The goal is to help the teachers “plan lessons that fully teach these underlying mathematical concepts and lead the way for algebraic thinking.”

The partnership with Harvard began in July 2002 when a team of DODDS-Pacific district superintendents, education division personnel and a teacher spent two weeks at the Harvard Institute for School Leadership. The result: Leading Learning, a comprehensive plan for teachers’ and administrators’ professional development.

“It’s our road map ... to advance standards-based learning in all our schools in the Pacific,” said Bloom, one of the participants.

The algebra course is the first online course for teachers to result from the Harvard partnership. Participants teach all elementary grades and are grouped into teams. The course is offered through WIDE World, the Education Technology Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Once the course is completed, administrators will evaluate its impact on how students perform and how teachers teach.

“For the course to truly be effective, we need to see enhanced outcomes,” Bloom said. “That means our elementary kids are better prepared once they get to middle school or high school and take on the rigors of algebra.”

Evaluators will be looking at how the students actually attack mathematics problems and at their standardized test scores, he said.

“We’ll also be asking the teachers as they work in their study groups to provide each other feedback in terms of how what they’re learning in this course changes the way they approach instruction,” he said.

Program participants teach at elementary schools including McCool and Andersen on Guam, Bechtel and Stearley Heights on Okinawa, Seoul in South Korea and two in Japan.

“It makes us think about the way we’ve been teaching,” said Kim Simpson, a second-grade teacher and one of the five team members from Andersen Elementary School on Guam. “In addition to doing what the teachers’ manual says, we have to go beyond.”

The group, halfway through the first module, has focused on “activating prior knowledge” — tying new concepts to those already taught and building from there.

Learning in a group already has proved “extremely valuable,” Simpson said. “When we had problems understanding what the instructor wanted, the group was able to hold discussions and come to an understanding of what was required.”

If successful, the pilot program will be expanded to include more teachers, officials said.

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