Practice, Research, and Innovation in Mathematics Education (PRIME) Center

The goal of the Practice, Research, and Innovation in Mathematics Education (PRIME) Center is to design and evaluate mechanisms for increasing the number of undergraduate students majoring in STEM fields.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Arizona State University
Established: 2008

Profile submitted by Carole Greenes, Associate Vice Provost for STEM Education, Director, PRIME Center, Professor of Mathematics Education, College of Technology and Innovation, Arizona State University

Vision and Goals

The goals of the Practice, Research, and Innovation in Mathematics Education (PRIME) Center at Arizona State University for students are to:

  • increase success with the study of mathematics and the sciences, and the use of various workplace technologies;
  • develop problem-solving and communication abilities;
  • enhance collaboration and critical thinking during project explorations; and
  • promote interest in enrolling in more courses and more advanced courses in mathematics in high school, leading to STEM majors at colleges and universities in preparation for STEM careers.

For teachers, to:

  • update knowledge of STEM-related concepts, skills, and reasoning methods;
  • enhance talents in the design of projects that integrate STEM key ideas;
  • broaden knowledge of assessment strategies to identify students' depths of understanding of key concepts and their interest in STEM areas of study and careers;
  • increase knowledge of ways to address students' varying needs and talents.

For families, to:

  • expand knowledge of STEM careers, the preparation necessary for those careers, and their children's talents and interests in those areas.

For the community, to:

  • increase knowledge of ways they can support students and schools with their STEM education efforts;
  • update their knowledge of STEM careers and job opportunities.

Center/Program Structure

The PRIME Center, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University, is an independent entity. The Center has three full-time staff: Carole Greenes, Associate Vice Provost, Director of the Center, and Professor of Mathematics Education in the College of Technology and Innovation; Mary Cavanagh, Executive Director of the Center; and Shelley Tingey, Director of Projects in the Center. As well, there are two associated faculty: Ida Malian, Professor of Special Education, and Susan Wolf, assessment and evaluation expert and President of Empowerment Research, LLC. Visiting with us this year is Pushpa Ramakrishna, Professor of Biology, Chandler Gilbert Community College. The Center employs three undergraduate student workers; one is the lead mentor for the undergraduate and high school students who work in our projects, one who oversees and manages the Center website, and one who edits our MATHgazine publications (two/month, one for grades 4 – 8 students and one for grades 8 – 12 students.) With the exception of a portion of Greenes' salary, all other positions are externally funded.

Description of Programming

Prime the Pipeline Project (P3): Putting Knowledge to Work, funded by the National Science Foundation (#0833760, 2008-2011 + 2NCE), designed, implemented, and evaluated the Scientific Village strategy for increasing secondary school students' interest and achievement in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Concurrently, P3 updated secondary teachers in STEM subjects and workplace technologies. Scientific Villages are communities of high school students and secondary school certified STEM teachers as co-learners, university or industry scientists as designers and leaders, and undergraduate STEM majors as mentors. Villagers work collaboratively on long-term projects/problems (one per semester or summer) that are of high interest, are similar to those faced by STEM professionals, and require application of STEM concepts and skills for their solutions. The approach during project engagement reverses the lecture-then-apply method of instruction. Rather, villagers bring to bear what they already know and gain information and direction at point of need. Four Scientific Villages were conducted each semester and summer over a period of 3 years, with a primary focus on engineering, technology, or science while integrating math concepts, skills, reasoning methods, and modeling techniques. The last session was the Showcase Open House in which villagers presented their products (models, games, films, research reports) to the community. Over the life of P3, 153 students and 76 teachers participated in the villages. Among the village topics were Cellular Communications and Network Design, 3D Virtual Modeling for Emergency Services, Wind Energy, Aviation Flight Training, Trauma Simulation, Biotechnology: The Case of the Mystery Genes, and Optical Illusions, the Properties of Light and Human Vision. Our research provides evidence that the Scientific Village approach increased high school student preparedness for college majors in STEM fields and for the workplace, served as an effective tool for recruiting high school graduates into STEM college majors, and increased student persistence in those majors. In addition to their collaborative learning with students, teachers participated in Connections Courses, held daily in tandem with summer villages. The Connections Courses were led by project staff, village leaders, and visiting scientists. Teachers gained greater insight into big ideas in their areas of expertise and sister fields, and with various types of technology, assessment strategies, and methods for counseling students through the STEM pipeline. They developed proposals to fund materials and supplies needed for implementing project-driven learning in their classrooms. They connected/networked with other teachers to examine common instructional difficulties and learn about new STEM programs and activities offered by their peers.

STEM in the Middle (SIM): It Takes a Village is another successful program conducted by the PRIME Center. Funded by the Helios Education Foundation, and modeled after the P3 program, SIM is designed for students in grades 5 – 8 and middle school teachers of mathematics, science, and technology. Two Club STEM student villages are conducted each semester on seven Saturdays for 3 hours per session. The last session is the Showcase Open House at which students present their village projects and describe what they learned, and what they accomplished, to other students, their families, and the community. Villages are designed and led by university or industry scientists and assisted by mentors (17) who are undergraduate STEM majors or upper-level high school students interested in pursuing STEM fields who apply for and are trained for the position. Among the village topics are: Things That Fly, Sumo-Bot Robotic Challenge, Photography & Video: Creative Imaging, Computer Games: Programming and Design, Forensic Science, and Anatomy. The teacher professional development component focuses on updating teacher content knowledge in their own and sister fields, assessment strategies, methods for developing and conducting integrated STEM activities, and pedagogical strategies for enhancing student interest in and success with STEM. Teacher 4-hour sessions are held on four Saturday mornings each semester and for one week (5 days) during the summer. To date, 153 students have participated in Club STEM villages, 32 undergraduate and high school students have served as mentors to Club STEM students and assisted Club STEM village leaders, and 56 teachers have received professional development. Those 56 teachers account for another 7000 (56x125) students per year who are benefiting from this program.

Successes and Impacts

Of our projects, only Prime the Pipeline Project (P3): Putting Knowledge to Work funded by the NSF ( #08033760), our largest project and the one closest to completion, is the one for which we have the greatest amount of information about students and teachers. Documentation of the project is in The Pipeline Story, a book about the project that can be accessed on the PRIME Center website ( P3 employed the scientific village project-driven learning approach in which high school students and high school STEM teachers collaborated as learners in the exploration of STEM-IT workplace challenges. Over the life of the project, 153 high school students from 11 different school districts and 76 teachers from 22 school districts participated. Of the total number of students, 33 students who were with us for at least six village sessions were randomly selected to serve as the intervention group and each had a matched control (matched on the basis of academic performance and interests at the start of the project). Pre- and post-village content assessments, individual interviews (both during and after completion of the project), observations of group work, and product evaluations were administered to collect data from all participants. In addition, academic course-taking records and performance, as well as results of state assessments, were obtained for both intervention and control students. Evaluations showed that the scientific village approach was highly effective in

  1. increasing the number of high school students who took significantly more STEM courses in high school, and more advanced levels of those courses, and continued on to college and majors in those fields as compared with their matched controls; and
  2. updating STEM high school teachers in their own and sister fields. In pre- to post-village assessments of students and teachers, results indicated significant growth in knowledge and skills, ranging from 25% to 250%.

One year after the completion of the program, 25 of the 33 intervention students were in college and 19 were in STEM majors. Two years after high school graduation, those 19 remained in STEM majors and three others joined them for a total of 22 of the 28 in college in STEM majors. Of the remaining five, two are employed, one is in the Marines, and two are in community college. The PRIME Center received the 2012 Outstanding Afterschool Program Award of Excellence from the Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence because of success in recruiting students into STEM fields.

Elements Contributing to Success

Much of the success of the Pipeline Project may be attributed to its location on the university campus with its laboratory and computer lab facilities which are far more extensive and workplace-like than may be found in most local high schools. An example is the flight training village in which students learned to fly using the same flight simulators as used by Southwest Airlines pilots during their training. Coming to the campus once a week for 9 weeks each semester and for 10 days in the summer eliminated students' fears about being able to get around a large college campus without getting lost, being able to communicate with professors, and making new friends (students and teachers came from 18 different communities). By having high school students and teachers as co-investigators, communication and collaboration results were amazing. All teachers relied on the students for help with the technologies!!! Teachers observed how much students know and bring to bear to the solution of problems, and that they can learn faster and retain more in a project-driven environment in which they work with real technologies and solve real problems.