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Mathematics training for service-learning.


In our service-learning program teacher-training candidates bridge the gap between expectations and realities of teaching in the K-8 classroom. In the mathematics training segment of this program candidates become aware of the creative part of mathematics as well as the importance of the standards that accentuate mathematics instruction in the State of California. Included in the training are strategies and heuristics for problem solving, modeling, and examples of successful mathematics teaching. We found that our program succeeds in giving candidates a realistic expectation of their future career and a new way of looking at mathematics instruction.


Service-learning by definition is an educational program that (1) integrates service with academic study, (2) operates from a social justice framework, and (3) combines reflection, action, and analysis (Varlotta, 1996). The service-learning graduation requirement for students majoring in Liberal Studies at California State University, Long Beach was introduced in 1996. Students contemplating a career in teaching serve as tutors and instructional aides in urban classrooms (Hamm et al, 1998). The college students receive training in literacy skills and active participation strategies through the Service Experiences for ReVitalizing Education (SERVE) Program in the College of Education. At the school site the college students come in contact with the realities of urban classrooms and the cultural and social backgrounds of diverse populations.

In 1999, the mathematics component of SERVE training began as a pilot program through the Long Beach Elementary Science and Math Teacher Education Partnership (LBESTEP). One of the LBESTEP objectives for better student learning opportunities was for pre-service teachers to have opportunities to participate in the SERVE Program as math/science aides in local schools.

LBESTEP leaders brought together professors from the Department of Teacher Education, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and the director of the SERVE program to design and implement mathematics training for pre-service teachers. They studied the training already in place, involving inquiry training to reach diverse learners and infusing mathematics into the training in a natural way. They designed the training, created materials, and piloted the first training in fall 1999. From fall 1999 through spring 2004 this involved 1300 students at California State University, Long Beach.

Training Sessions

In the beginning, the majority of the students participating in the mathematics training had upper-division standing and were drawn from across the university under the Federal Work Study Program (2004). In fall 2001, mathematics training was incorporated into the general service-learning training for all students in education. This training now extends to freshmen and sophomores, with the majority of students in the teacher preparation program.

The background of some students included teacher's assistant experiences, whereas for others--the majority--this was their first field experience. Most of them expressed concern about providing support for students in mathematics. Consequently, one of the goals of SERVE Math training was to draw out and emphasize positive experiences in mathematics and an attitude of confidence with an increase in their own competence. Our purpose was twofold: (1) to have students feel confident in the mathematics content area and (2) to be able to provide activities appropriate to their tutees.

The training sessions gave opportunities for hands-on experiences combined with actual activities and materials that could be given directly to children. For example, in the area of content, a SERVE Mathematics Training handbook was written by the two professors in collaboration with the SERVE director. It covers math concepts that are in line with the mathematics framework of the State of California (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000). The materials and activities have been classroom-tested through the years in the professors' own classrooms as well as in those of former students who are now teaching.

Sample materials that students take away from the workshop include: the handbook, numerous multicultural games and activities involving tiles and "pirinolas," mathematical warm-ups and stimulants, enrichment, practice pages, problem-solving hints/heuristics (Krause, 2000). Students also use manipulatives and calculators, and participate in computer applications to real life (Wyatt et al, 1998) and demonstrations.


The students' confidence naturally grew as they experienced success themselves and as they drew from the professors' demonstration of their own excitement in their discipline. Participating professor of teacher education Dr. Marina Krause told the students: "Children enjoy patterns and they enjoy making patterns for other children. The calculator levels the playing field ... the children that couldn't explore the patterns now can." Dr. Angelo Segalla, associate professor of mathematics and credential advisor, revealed to them that "the most elegant minds in history have been attracted to mathematics ... would they have been attracted to a boring subject?" And employing technology he pointed out "how these great minds could think of these things without Jackiw's Geometer's Sketchpad."

In the pilot year the Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics also participated in the training sessions. During his time with the students, he implored: "I see in young children an incredible desire to know 'why' ... Rekindle it if you feel you lost it. Retain your curiosity. Instill in children the spirit of wonder, inquiry, questioning 'why?' Math worksheets will not instill curiosity. What instills curiosity are problems. As beginning teachers you need to seek that out ... problems suitable to spark curiosity and teach skill development."

The SERVE director collected feedback from all the participants. Regarding the content of the mathematics training, the students wrote: "[It] helped me to recall that motivation and the need to inspire is important." "It helped me understand how math ties to many subjects and situations." "[The training was] good [in] showing how algebra formats what is our reality." "Hands-on really helps reinforce the learning, especially for those like myself who have a learning disability." "I received a lot of new ideas to someday use in my own classroom." In addition, personal comments from the students included, "I have a totally different view of math." "It was a great experience to realize that math really helps us to understand the world." And last, "If I become a teacher, I will most likely become a math teacher."

The university students perform their SERVE work in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, the majority in Long Beach Unified School District, a partner in the CSULB education partnership (Hamm et al, 1998). The children with whom they work are identified as students at risk by the participating classroom teachers. The university students may be called upon to work with individual children or small groups formed by classroom teachers. The classroom teachers provide SERVE students with the instructional objectives. Their assignments at the elementary schools range from 4-6 hours per week over a 10-week period. Placement requests exceed the number of students available and their assistance is well received. The following graph illustrates time spent during math instruction in fall 2003.

Responses from Classroom Teachers

The cooperating teachers were thankful to have SERVE students in their classrooms. Following is a representative contribution: "I am so grateful for the SERVE Program. [The student] was fantastic. She was so enthusiastic and competent that I often felt like there were two teachers in the class to help the children. Because of her help, I was able to add valuable small group instruction to my students." Teachers appreciated the preparation that our students received: "Heather is the third SERVE student with whom I have worked. I found her--as I have the others in the SERVE program to be of great benefit to me in the classroom. She was able to relate to the students, worked very effectively with those who were needy, and was very motivated."

Participating Professors and SERVE Director

Dr. Marina Krause uses her collection of activities and games that originated in different parts of the world (Krause, 2000). "In the short period of time I am with the SERVE students, my goal is to present practical materials that will work in their assignments. They have something to hold on to, and they know they're not going empty-handed."

Dr. Angelo Segalla combines mathematics with history, technology and the arts to show students the treasures they can expect to discover with a new point of view: "Coming away from a SERVE meeting is an energizing experience because I can sense and see a change in attitude in math on the part of the students. Did I change their attitude? Did we? I think we have. I come out of there feeling like I've accomplished a small but important objective--to change their outlook so they don't teach another generation to dislike mathematics."

Hilda Sramek, director of the SERVE Program, and Dr. Segalla presented a workshop entitled "Development of service-learning training in mathematics for students in teacher education" at the Third Annual Community Service-Learning Conference in Long Beach, California, in November 2000 to show others how the training was developed and to encourage them to begin their own planning.

Benefits of the program

Service-learning, partnerships, and education offer endless opportunities for growth, and the SERVE Math Training has all those components. The benefits include the following: Students become aware of the importance of standards used in the mathematics framework of the State of California and those published in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000). Students learn math strategies or heuristics that they can apply in the field.

Professors encourage positive attitudes in mathematics through modeling and examples, and minimize mathematics anxiety seen in future teachers when they enter the workshop. It is known that 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession after 3 years. A program like this, phasing future teachers in, lessens the chance of that happening; these future teachers have realistic expectations and are less likely to be disillusioned. In the spirit of Public Law PL 107-110, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, SERVE provides teachers in the field with trained assistants and provides a bridge to the teaching profession.

The three participants have collaborated and met frequently, planning, writing, evaluating, securing materials (they have gone together to Olvera Street in Los Angeles to purchase "pirinolas" for the game of Toma Todo), and conducting formative evaluations to better the program. It has been a rewarding experience that has made friendships in two departments of the university, the Department of Teacher Education and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.


This program was made possible by the generous support of LBESTEP. The participants express their appreciation to the National Science Foundation and LBESTEP for the opportunity to create, to grow personally and professionally, and to pass on their knowledge and their love of mathematics. They are discussing future projects in addition to wanting to continue with the SERVE Mathematics Training.


Federal Work Study Information, 2004, coluniv_fws.html

Deborah Hamm, David Dowell, and Jean Houck. "Service-Learning as a Strategy to Prepare Candidates for Contemporary Diverse Classrooms," Education, Vol. 119, No. 2 (Winter 1998)

Jackiw, Nicholas, Dynamic Geometry for Windows, Emeryville, CA: Key Curriculum Press, 1995.

Krause, Marina C., Multicultural Mathematics Materials, 2nd Ed. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001,

Varlotta, Lori E. "Service-Learning: A Catalyst for Constructing Democratic Progressive Communities," Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Vol. 3, (Fall 1996)

Wyatt, Karen W. Ann Lawrence, and Gina M. Foletta, Geometry Activities for Middle School Students, Version 3. Emeryville, CA: Key Curriculum Press, 1997.

Angelo Segalla, California State University, Long Beach

Marina Krause, California State University, Long Beach

Hilda Sramek, California State University, Long Beach

Segalla, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Mathematics in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Krause, Ed.D., is Professor of Teacher Education, in the College of Education, and Sramek, M.S., is Director of the SERVE Program in the College of Education.
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Author:Sramek, Hilda
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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