Lessons for the knowledge economy

Apr 27, 2007

Kettering teamed up with the Genesee Intermediate School District to develop more effective methods of teaching K-12 math and science.

Dr. Bahram Roughani, professor of Applied Physics and program director for Applied Physics, is working with the Genesee Intermediate School District (GISD) on middle-school course development to help prepare area school children for the knowledge economy.

Roughani received a two-year grant with the GISD, from the Michigan Department of Education, to involve four Kettering faculty members to help develop middle school courses in science and math using the "Lesson Study" approach. "We are targeting the middle school age level because it is a critical stage in preparation for high school and prior to finalizing their program study plan after middle school, which can determine college preparedness," said Roughani.

"We need to engage students in math and science before high school," said Roughani, "it's almost too late to prepare them for advanced study if they are not interested when they come to high school," he said.

The grant also has a component to connect Kettering University to all K-12 schools in Genesee County via GenNet (part of FanNet). This electronic connection would enable Kettering faculty to teach course material, offer live or taped broadcast of various laboratories and have Kettering student talk to high school students about their academic and co-op experiences through video streaming technology. Roughani is working with other Kettering faculty to develop this opportunity to provide outreach activities directly into GISD classrooms.

The Kettering faculty involved in this project are: Dr. Irina F. Sivergina, associate professor of Mathematics; Dr. Peter Stanchev, professor of Computer Science; Matthew S. Sanders, associate professor Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering; and Mo Torfeh-Isfahani, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Lesson Study is a professional development process that Japanese teachers engage in to systematically examine their practice, with the goal of becoming more effective. According to the Teachers College, Columbia University web site, teachers work collaboratively on a small number of "study lessons" planning, teaching, observing, and critiquing the lessons. Each lesson has an overarching goal and related research question to explore. The lesson is presented by one of the teachers in a real classroom (as other group members observe the lesson). The group then comes together to discuss their observations of the lesson, make necessary revisions and frequently another teacher implements the revised lesson in a second classroom.

Derived from the Japanese word jugyokenkyuu, the term "lesson study" was coined by Makoto Yoshida, it can also be translated in reverse as "research lesson," coined by Catherine Lewis, which indicates the level of scrutiny applied to individual lessons (from the online edition of RBS Currents, Spring/ Summer 2002).

The Kettering/GISD collaboration involves a committee of four to five middle school teachers and one Kettering faculty member, whose role it is to bring an applications aspect to the particular Lesson Study subject. In other words, showing how the subject matter is applied to real world uses, according to Roughani.

The first subject the group tackled was math. "When we meet we spend the day developing processes for teaching a particular module," Roughani said, "we anticipate the questions student may have and factor in different learning styles, then one of the teachers implements the module in a real classroom while the other team members observe the students during the lesson," he explained.

Team members observe the students rather than the teacher to analyze student reaction to the lesson and method of delivery. After the team makes revisions they repeat the process at a second school and then finalize and package the module.

"One of the focus points is to create units/activities in areas that are traditionally hard to teach and hard for the students to comprehend," said Larry Casler, director of the Genesee area Math/Science Center for the Genesee Intermediate School District.

"Toward that end, we are accumulating the work done by our Genesee County team and combining it with work done by several other groups across the state," Calser added, "I would say that when this activity base is completed and available to all teachers in Michigan, will be the best product developed so far."

Once finalized, the Michigan Department of Education can make the module available electronically to every middle school teacher in the state, according to Roughani. He would like Kettering to also be a resource for delivery of the modules, he said.

Currently four counties in Michigan are conducting Lesson Study programs through grants from the Michigan department of Education.

"This grant has solidified our working relationship with GISD and helped us work more closely with them," said Roughani. "I believe that in the Lesson Study teachers have the ownership of the process, while the STEM faculty are the so-called knowledgeable others who bring relevance to abstract ideas by providing application examples, as well as being a source for research ideas in teaching and learning"

Instead of bringing students to Kettering's campus, the project sends a Kettering faculty member to the middle schools to observe and offer suggestions on how to revise the module.

"It is a learning process for us," said Roughani of himself and other university faculty involved in the project, "seeing the difficulties K-12 teachers face gives us a different perspective of the educational process," he said.

"This particular group has been giving very positive feedback regarding the process and the opportunity to work with other teachers in different teaching situations and the Kettering faculty," said Casler.

"There is no question that we would partner with Kettering faculty again, the professors involved have been outstanding!" Casler added.

Other related projects include integrating workforce development into education - involving Automation Alley, Oakland University, GISD and Kettering.

Kettering has formed an alliance with GISD to write a grant - tentatively called the MSP group (which stands for Math/Science Partnership), as a subgroup of the Automation Alley workforce development committee.

For more information about the Kettering/GISD Lesson Study project contact Dr. Bahram Roughani or Larry Casler.

Written by Dawn Hibbard


 What is the Lesson Study process?

Teachers choose lesson study goals that focus on skills or dispositions that they want to foster in all students, across all grades, and in a particular content area (e.g., fostering autonomous thinking in students when they do mathematics). Teachers then generate research questions, which have to do with exploring how to develop these skills or dispositions in children. In addition, specific content goals are also articulated for each study lesson.

Lesson study is practiced in every content area from language arts, to math, and even gym. Lesson study provides a process for teachers to examine their practice in order to answer questions about how they can serve their students more effectively, and this can be done in all subject and grade levels.

In a single school, lesson study often brings together teachers from all grade levels and different areas of interest. This diversity of participants is seen as providing a rich perspective to lesson study activities.