Brownell takes part in program to improve math teaching

Christopher Brownell, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Mathematics and STEM Education

The FPU Board of Trustees granted Brownell, a member of the mathematics education faculty since 2000, a leave of absence at its June 10-11 meetings so he can be part of the TEAMES (Teachers Employing Applied Mathematics to Engage Students) grant at Claremont Graduate University.

TEAMES provides $1.5 million over five years through the federal Teaching for a Competitive America program. The grant is a project of CGU and San Bernardino City Schools to help 16 middle- and high-school teachers earn master's degrees at CGU. The first cohort of eight has already been selected, with the second to follow in 2012.

Brownell, who taught high school math for 14 years, will be the grant coordinator, overseeing the day-to-day work and earning a Ph.D. at no cost to himself. He also expects to do some teaching outside the grant. "So many things have lined up just right to make this happen," Brownell said.

The goal of the project is to improve the teaching of math in public schools and show students that an interest in the subject can be a springboard to many careers. Most mathematicians have jobs, with 98 percent of those with Ph.D.s employed, Brownell said.

Most mathematicians do not work in academia. "Mathematicians are in almost every field," Brownell said, including businesses such as Google and Microsoft, and the social and natural sciences. "The hottest field right now is biology," he added.

The teachers will be in a program of 32 unites split between 20 units of mathematics and 12 units of education. Not only will the teachers improve, so will the curriculum, Brownell said, to focus less on pure mathematics and more on applied mathematics. "The 20 units are all in applied mathematics. It is an innovative program because of that," he said.

While pure math is necessary, it is focused on the abstract, and applied math doesn't get the attention it deserves. "Today's pure math is tomorrow's technical application," Brownell said. "But you've got to have somebody to translate the pure research."

Brownell's two-year leave starts July 1.