Sarah Bush, Brian Moore, Lisa Brooks, Juli Dixon, and Malcolm Butler have been awarded a new grant from NSF that focuses on math education.

UCF Professors Awarded NSF Grant to Empower Orange County K-8 Mathematics Teachers

By: Simone Rousseau on

UCF researchers have been awarded a nearly $1.5 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to launch a new program that includes the creation of a new doctoral specialization at UCF and the UCF-Orange County Public Schools’ Noyce Teacher Leader Academy.

The grant will also fund the first 15 research fellows in the program. The fellows will teach math in Orange County public K-8 schools and must embody a strong commitment to social justice, according to the researchers.

Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political, and social rights and opportunities, says Sarah Bush and Juli Dixon, two of the principal investigators on the project. Bush is an associate professor in UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education, and Dixon is a professor of mathematics education in the college.

Project investigators also include Lisa Brooks, an associate lecturer of mathematics education; Malcolm Butler, a professor and director of UCF’s School of Teacher Education; and Brian Moore, an associate professor of mathematics.

“STEM is an area where access for historically excluded populations is a well-known and documented issue,” says Bush. “We want to change that narrative.”

The research fellows, made up of OCPS educators already in the field, will be required to serve as instructional leaders and advocates for their colleagues and students by using a strong knowledge of research-informed and equitable policies, practices, and structures.

Many of the fellows have already been working in Orange County Title 1 schools, where the need and opportunity are often the greatest, says Dixon.

“Mentoring is vital and layered…we want to elevate underrepresented educators,” says Dixon. “With this program in place, educators will have the opportunity to not only learn leadership skills in their coursework, but also use those skills to give the historically excluded students that high-quality education experience. This experience means that mathematics could become a gateway rather than a gatekeeper to future opportunities for students.”

The program also includes a partnership with the nonprofit City Year Orlando, an organization that provides support and resources for high-needs schools by sending their members directly into schools as volunteer student-success coaches. Fellows will be given the opportunity to mentor City Year Orlando volunteers.

Orange County Public Schools has worked side by side with UCF professors from the College of Community Innovation and Education.

“This project will allow our most vulnerable schools to attract, recruit, and retain educators,” says OCPS chief of staff Bridget Williams. “This will allow a schoolwide focus on improving student achievement in mathematics. The work that Sarah and Juli have done will definitely make a difference in the lives of the teachers who are selected to participate in the program.”

Bush says Professor Michele Gill, program coordinator of the education doctorate in curriculum and instruction, has helped provide guidance.

Bush received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction-Mathematics Education from the University of Louisville. She is the lead writer of the middle school volume of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Catalyzing Change series and associate professor of the K-12 STEM education program as well as program coordinator of the mathematics education track of a doctorate in education. The series addresses policies, practices and issues in the classroom and provides educators with the principles to enact change. Bush joined UCF in 2017.

Dixon is a professor of mathematics education at UCF and was a public-school mathematics teacher at elementary, middle and secondary levels. Dixon received her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction -Mathematics Education from the University of Florida. She joined UCF in 2000.

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