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UCR Summer Courses Train Teachers

UCR Summer Courses Send Teachers Back to School Well Equipped

(August 16, 2000)

As Inland Empire children ready themselves for the new school year, some of their teachers will be returning extra prepared after a summer of University of California, Riverside training to improve teaching in everything from archeology to math and writing.

For 5th-grade math teacher Judy Lynch, part of that training included a weeklong course at UCR that taught alternative ways to instruct.

'I had no idea there was more than one way to get an answer,' she said. 'I grew up under that system where you learned one way of doing math, that was it.'

But working as a team with other math teachers, and with guidance from instructors at UCR's Math Academy for Teaching Excellence (MATE), Lynch learned new ways of doing her job. The program is one of more than 20 offered through the university's ALPHA Center. Training programs were also offered to teachers in science, history, social studies and language arts.

The ALPHA Center was formed in 1998 to address the persistent and historically low rate of Inland Empire high school graduates who meet UC eligibility. In 1998, one in three Inland Empire students qualified for college, a rate well below the statewide standard of 60 percent.

With $2.1 million from the UC Office of the President, ALPHA Center director Pamela Clute went to work forging relationships with school districts, businesses, nonprofit groups, parents and students. The Center also coordinates all UCR academic outreach programs that improve students chances of getting into college.

ALPHA Center staff took a three-pronged approach, developing programs that tutor at-risk students, train teachers, and researching how students learn and which teaching methods are most effective.

Improving teacher quality is the key to graduating more competent students, which in turn raises the number and preparation of UCR's incoming freshmen and maintains its standing as the most diverse campus in the UC system, Clute said.

For teachers like Lynch, improving meant thinking of new and creative ways to excite students about math. That meant teaching one subject in several different ways.

'Their problem solving approach really opened new doors in my thinking about teaching math...there are many ways to get to the right answer,' Lynch said.

The MATE program encourages teachers to work collaboratively to make school work more interesting to students and to allow them to meet higher expectations the high tech workplace will demand of them.

Progress has been slow but steady, Clute said.

Since its formation, the ALPHA Center has helped about 5,400 teachers at a variety of grade levels and subjects, Clute added.

John Briggs, an associate professor of English and director of the Inland Area Writing Project, said the ALPHA Center has boosted his efforts to improve the teaching of writing.

'We're developing a curriculum that connects reading with writing, both expository and literary, because that's how writing is learned in most cases,' he said. 'We're also forming teacher teams at various high schools and middle schools to create a self supporting system that teachers can use after they leave our program.'

The center also conducts research using UCR faculty and graduate students. They analyze the findings made at teacher training and student academies, to refine teaching methods for the future.

The center is working with middle and high schools in the Alvord, Colton, Desert Sands, Jurupa, Riverside and Val Verde school districts. The districts pay for teacher training through the center at UCR.

Under the school-university partnership, teachers who receive additional training increase their expectations of student work. They apply those expectations across the board and refine how they determine what is top-notch work. The expected results are better prepared college freshmen.

The center has created new programs to improve the knowledge teacher have of their subjects, whether it is English, social studies or math and science. The premise is that confident teachers have the tools to make learning fun. A fun classroom atmosphere, in turn, stimulates students to learn more about each subject.

To that end, social studies teachers were involved in an archeology program where students in the classroom learned how to identify, date and catalogue artifacts, then went on an actual dig site where they searched for replica Native American artifacts.

The Mathematics Academy for Teaching Excellence, or MATE, focused on teacher training but allowed them to immediately apply new teaching methods to groups of students attending a concurrent summer math workshop at UCR.

Workshop leaders encouraged activities, such as building kites, which can focus on different mathematical principles depending on the grade level of the children involved.

For instance, elementary-school age children learned basic math definitions, middle school children studied ratios and basic geometric ideas, high schoolers focused on theories of aerodynamics, and trigonometry, said Diane Mumper, director of the MATE program for the ALPHA Center, and a former elementary math teacher in Colton.

For more information about upcoming teacher training, workshops and student academies call the ALPHA Center at (909) 787- 5425.

Teacher, Judy Lynch can be reached at (909) 681-3824.

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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