Photo by WSU Photo Services
PULLMAN, Wash. – Under the guidance of experts from Washington State University and the University of Idaho, rural math teachers of the Inland Northwest may soon improve their students’ reasoning skills and, in turn, their overall academic achievement.
A nearly $5 million research grant from the National Science Foundation’s Math and Science Partnership will fund the “Making Math Reasoning Explicit” (MMRE) program and provide professional development for teachers in small school districts throughout eastern Washington and northern Idaho.
Application for all of life
“Too often students are taught the ‘how’ of mathematics—they learn how to do a certain task or how to arrive at a certain answer—but they don’t understand why it works,” said Libby Knott, Boeing distinguished professor of science and mathematics education at WSU and principal investigator (PI) for the five-year grant. “Our goal is to work with teachers on how to make reasoning skills evident in their classroom instruction.”
Being able to explain and justify abstract mathematical concepts can help both teachers and students apply problem-solving skills in other areas of their lives.
“For example,” said Jo Olson, WSU assistant professor of mathematics education and a co-PI on the project, “the logic and reasoning skills needed to examine the evidence of a mathematical argument can also be used when considering the strength of a persuasive argument in a speech or the merits of government spending cuts.”
Through the MMRE program, investigators hope to better understand key elements for improving the way mathematics is both taught and learned.
Teachers will learn, share with colleagues
Selected teachers in grades 4-12 will be enrolled in the MMRE program for three years. Each summer, participants will spend three weeks on the Pullman campus, taking an intensive mathematics course and attending workshops to improve their leadership abilities and their classroom instruction activities. Administrators from participating districts will join their teachers for several days each summer.
By the third year, teachers in MMRE will facilitate leadership courses for teachers entering the program and provide professional development for colleagues in their home districts.
The first 20 teachers selected for the program will attend an intensive weekend introduction at WSU Spokane in October; the summer institute phase of the program will begin in June 2012. A new group of regional teachers will be added to the program each of the subsequent two years.
The scope of the grant provides tuition and housing for participating teachers, as well as a summer stipend.
10 rural school districts participate
The first teachers will be selected from 10 rural school districts: Bridgeport, Brewster, Creston, Davenport, Grand Coulee Dam and Wilbur in Washington; and Boundary County, Kellogg, Lake Pend Oreille and West Bonner in Idaho.
The MMRE team experts includes faculty from both universities and a K-12 superintendent:

University of Idaho
• Anne Adams, assistant professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction
• Rob Ely, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics
• Jennifer Johnson-Leung, assistant professor, Department of Mathematics

Washington State University
• Tom Asaki, associate professor, Department of Mathematics
• Libby Knott, professor, Department of Mathematics
• Jo Olson, assistant professor, Department of Teaching and Learning
K-12 administration
• Jim Kowalkowski, superintendent, Davenport School District, and director, Washington Rural Education Center
About the Math and Science Partnership
The Math and Science Partnership (MSP) is a major research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science. MSP projects are expected to raise the achievement levels of all students and significantly reduce achievement gaps in the mathematics and science performance of diverse student populations.


Libby Knott, WSU Department of Mathematics, 509-335-4122,

Media contacts:
Joanna Steward, WSU College of Sciences, 509-335-3933,
Julie Titone, WSU College of Education, 509-335-6850,