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Study on Elementary School Teachers Affirms New Interactive Teaching Methods Are Needed

April 6, 2007

Story Contact:  Jennifer Faddis, 573-882-6217,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — A study published today in Science shows that elementary teachers spend too much time delivering basic information and are not providing a rich, interactive learning environment. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that children spend more than 90 percent of their school days sitting at a desk listening to the teacher or working alone. Barbara Reys, who is the Lois Knowles Distinguished Professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia and director for the Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum, calls the study an affirmation that changes in mathematics curriculum and instruction are needed.

"This study affirms that the traditional lecture method of teaching children is not helpful to most students. Teachers cannot simply deliver information to students; they must get children to take more responsibility for actively learning," Reys said. "Our main message is that teachers must have an engaging, rigorous curriculum. We need to get children both physically and mentally engaged. True learning does not occur until a child is asked to participate in answering challenging questions and work with other students to struggle and problem-solve. When students actively participate, they learn more, and it sticks with them."

Reys is involved in a partnership between MU and the Columbia Public Schools that provides a graduate program on curriculum leadership in mathematics for 15 teachers. The group meets weekly to improve teaching methods and help teachers develop leadership skills. The goal also is to have these teachers become models for other teachers.

Reys is a professor of mathematics education in the MU College of Education's Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum. She has an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a doctorate in mathematics education. She taught elementary, middle and senior high school and currently teaches courses at MU for teachers and doctoral students. Reys served as a writing group leader for grades 3-5 of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics and on the NCTM Board of Directors. Her current research focuses on the role and influence of curriculum standards and textbooks in teaching and learning mathematics.