Improving the quality of both middle-school teacher preparation and student performance is the focus of a new track in the bachelor of science degree in mathematics at UAB, said John Mayer, a faculty member who led the development of the track.

The first one of its kind in the state, the track was developed during the past two years as a project of the Greater Birmingham Mathematics Partnership, a collaboration (created by a grant from the National Science Foundation) that includes UAB, Birmingham-Southern College and nine Birmingham-area school districts. Mayer, associate chair and professor in the UAB Department of Mathematics, is the principal investigator for the grant.

The track includes 11 mathematics courses that combine revised and existing courses.

One of the biggest changes for teachers in grades 4-6 is the inclusion of a two-semester calculus sequence; these teachers previously have been required only to study the mathematics required of elementary teachers. Calculus is important for these teachers, who need to be able to look ahead to what students will take in high school, Mayer explained. “Calculus is really one of the centers and strengths of mathematics at a higher level,” he said.

For prospective teachers of grades 4-8, required mathematics credit hours is increased from 12 to 33. For prospective teachers of grades 7-8, the number of hours is decreased from 42 to 33, a change designed to increase the number of mathematics teachers for these grades.

The courses in the track are proposed to be taught in such a way that the students develop a deep understanding of the concepts and reasoning behind them.

Mayer said state and national reports indicate students lose ground in mathematics performance from fourth to eighth grade compared to their peers in other countries. “We hope to address — at least in a small way — that gap,” he said.

The track will be rolled out during the next two years beginning with the fall 2006 semester.