By the 12th grade, American students are so far behind internationally in math achievement that they outperform students only in Cyprus and South Africa. This is something of a puzzle for U.S. educators because fourth grade math test scores place students above the international average, but that ability disappears by the eighth grade.
Something clearly is not clicking between American middle school students and math.
On Wednesday, Jan. 6, AT&T and Hopkins will announce a new partnership to create a multimedia CD-ROM software program designed to improve math test scores and close that gap by offering middle school students a "virtual" environment where they might just discover a love of math.
With a $500,000 grant from AT&T Learning Network, Hopkins' Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth will launch the development of Descartes' Cove, a program that not only will allow middle school students to master basic math principles but also give them an opportunity to soar in the subject. There will be many courses and levels to this program, making it useful to a student as reinforcement for classroom learning and as an opportunity for self-paced advancement well beyond his or her math grade level.
Created collaboratively by education experts throughout Maryland, including those at IAAY, a pilot of Descartes' Cove will be evaluated in Maryland schools within two years and available nationally in three to four years. Support for the program is also provided by the Maryland State Department of Education and software maker LearnWare LLC.
"This innovative online resource builds on the basic concepts of mathematics and takes students to a new and challenging plateau for learning," said Joseph Haynes, general manager for AT&T in Maryland. "This is the largest education-related grant AT&T has made in Maryland. We're very excited to partner with the institute at Johns Hopkins and the Maryland State Department of Education in helping to raise the performance of our students."
When the program is complete, it will be platform independent. In other words, it will be able to be delivered via the Internet, on a CD-ROM or housed on independent servers. It is designed to be flexible for teachers, easily integrated into the classrooms or used in the child's home.
Descartes' Cove will allow students to view math in a new way, said Luciano Corazza, the program's coordinator and director of the institute's Center for Distance Education. Besides allowing students to work at their own pace through short courses in number theory, geometry, problem solving, logic and advanced math reasoning, the program shows students links between math and other disciplines such as science, art, music and architecture.
Some of the program's key components will be tools for parents and teachers to use in tracking students' progress, chat rooms for parents and teachers and online communication with Institute experts. There will be chat rooms for students, too, where they can talk about math and play math games with other students across the country. Descartes' Cove will also provide Web links to other math sites and to competitions.
"Descartes' Cove will allow a larger population to experience mathematics in exciting, innovative ways," Corazza said. "More than a mere computational science, mathematics is a thought-provoking endeavor that can enrich students' lives and, ultimately, everyone's lives."
Evolving from a pioneering program for students with extraordinary math ability, IAAY is now a leader in research and education reform, focusing on academically talented children. It is known for its national academic talent search, its rigorous summer programs and distance education programs for children.
"Our collaboration with AT&T will build upon what our faculty and staff have learned in nearly 20 years' work with the nation's ablest young people," said Lea Ybarra, the institute's executive director. "We want to support all teachers of mathematics. AT&T and our software partner, LearnWare LLC, share with the institute a commitment to improve mathematics teaching and learning, using some of the latest technology. We are all very excited and proud to be a partner in this important enterprise."