July/August 2020 Issue
June 13, 2020

Teamwork, mentoring secret to Queens College math ed program

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
queens college
Caption: TIME 2000 program graduates with director Alice Artzt, center. Photo provided.

Alice Artzt knew she had a problem when she started teaching secondary math education in 1985.

“I think I had three undergraduate students entering my methods class,” said Artzt, co-director of the Queens College secondary math education program. “I had some career changers, but I had few undergrads.”

With a single-digit undergraduate population, her choice was clear: start recruiting. But the Professional Staff Congress at City University of New York member also wanted to know why there were so few students. After learning Calculus One had a 50 percent drop rate, the problem became clear — a lack of student support. “They were entering as new students, with no friends and no support system, and they were too shy to go to their professor for help,” she said. “If they were thinking of becoming math teachers, that first college experience would kill it.”

She envisioned a new type of teacher preparation program. One that supported students throughout their academic career, providing a built-in network of classroom friends, an accessible faculty mentor, tuition assistance and a clear path toward a teaching degree. Thanks to a National Science Foundation grant in 1997, Teaching Improvements through Mathematics Education, better known as TIME 2000 — to mark the looming millennium — launched.

Nearly 25 years later, it’s still going strong with an alumni network of more than 250 educators, and a 95 percent five-year classroom retention rate for program graduates. Past graduates are her best recruiters, said Artzt, TIME 2000 director.

“I keep very close contact with the students. I want to know: What’s going on? What do they need help with? What do they need me to know?” said Artzt who receives students’ grades before they do and works with those who earn a C or less. Regular meetings with math professors also keep her in the loop. “I want anyone teaching a TIME 2000 student to have an investment in their learning.”

TIME 2000 students take all mathematics and education courses together; one of the first classes, first semester freshman year, is Human Development & Learning.

“The course helps them reflect on their successes in learning math in high school and learn to apply that knowledge to learning math in college,” said Frances R. Curcio, program co-director and Queens College professor emerita. Field work starts early. Freshmen observe a class taught by a Queens College alumna at the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Queens.

“We meet with the teacher before the lesson, to discuss psychological principles to be applied, then we sit around the perimeter of the room and observe. Following the lesson, we debrief,” said Curcio, a PSC retiree. “It gets them familiar with how hard it is to teach — many are shocked how much work goes into lesson prep and assessing student needs.”

Other program features include an annual high school math conference, a tutoring club, newsletter, focused mentoring, journal submissions and monthly hands-on seminars.

“The seminars relate math to the real world,” explained Curcio noting that past guests include a choreographer who discussed the math of dance, and a mathematician versed in the interlocking designs of artist M.C. Escher.

Key to the program’s success is keeping students together and having a dedicated faculty member they can turn to, said Artzt. “The relationships students have, that support group, is what gets them through when things get hard.”

For more information about TIME 2000, visit qc.cuny.edu/Academics/Honors/Time2000/Pages/default.aspx.