Dr. Ed McDonald
Dr. Ed McDonald is Associate Professor of Mathematics, and Associate Director of The Mathematics Resource and Technology Center at Clark Atlanta University. He is the founder of Inspiring Careers in Engineering, Mathematics and Science (ICEMS), a project supported by a NASA Education Grant.
What is the goal of the ICEMS Program?
Our mission is to foster excellence in mathematics and science, and to increase the number of minority students who pursue advanced degrees in these subjects. ICEMS currently targets 120 middle school students in three different public middle schools in the city of Atlanta.
Can you tell me a little about the program?
There are six major components. One is a Standards-Based Math Academy, and that takes place each Monday afternoon after school.
The second component is the Standards-Based Science Academy. That takes place on Saturday mornings at one school, and on Wednesday afternoons at the two other schools.
A third component is assessment of student performance in both math and science. For assessment of math, ICEMS utilizes the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. In our Science Academy, we develop our own pre- and post-testing to measure student performance in the various science topics.
The fourth component is staff training. The ICEMS staff consists of Morehouse and Spelman College students with appropriate majors — computer science, education, engineering, mathematics, etc. We call these students “scholars”, and they are trained to both tutor and mentor the students. The staff also includes the Science Academy Coordinator and the Mathematics Academy Coordinator, who are model classroom teachers. Additionally, a science teacher and a mathematics teacher are assigned to each ICEMS classroom to assist with classroom instruction and classroom management.
The Science Experiments and Math Quiz Bowl Competitions are the fifth component of our program. These are biannual; one at the end of the first semester, one at the end of the spring semester.
The sixth component is research.
What made you decide to start this program?
One main reason was recognition of the fact that all credible research pointed to one panicking fact: minority students, both male and female, continue to lag behind in terms of math and science performance.
Just as important is the fact that failure to study math leads to loss of opportunity, most often for young women and minority students. It can close doors to vocational and technical schools, to colleges, to majors in rewarding careers.
Something has to be done about this — and the big question is always, where do you start? High school is too late. I settled on the middle schools because, as they transition into adulthood, middle school students are forming life-long values. The decisions that these students make about what they will study, and how they will learn, can dramatically affect their future.
What approach did you take to influence their decisions?
I feel that math in the curriculum must be interesting. It must be relevant and must emphasize the usefulness of math and foster a positive disposition towards math, and often times that’s not the case in many classrooms.
Often, I have found that students did not do well because they didn’t find the mathematics that they were being taught to be useful. They didn’t value math, or connect it with their real-life experiences.
I decided that we would try to connect this math and science that we teach kids to their interests, to their experiences and expectations.
How do you do that?
You do it with planning. You do it with some understanding.
For example, Black and Hispanic students may find the development of mathematical ideas in their culture of great interest.
Teachers must be sensitive about the fact that students bring very different everyday experiences to the math classroom. The way in which a student from an urban environment and a student from a sub-urban or rural environment interpret a problem can be very different.
This is one reason why communication is one of the most important aspects of teaching.
Can you expand on that thought?
I find that students will perform better and learn more in a caring environment, in which they feel free to explore and discuss math ideas. This listening to one another establishes an atmosphere of mutual respect. Teachers can foster this willingness, which will carry over to the real world.
I feel that classroom activities should enable students to work both individually and in large and small group arrangements. This enables them to ask questions, exchange ideas, make mistakes. This is good, because this is what they have to do in real life. Work with other people. Make mistakes and learn how to correct them. Learn how to be independent.
How have the schools responded to ICEMS?
I have parents coming up and telling me that they have seen a change in their children’s attitudes towards math and schooling since they have been in the ICEMS program.
I’ve had principals say, “Teachers tell me that they can tell the difference between the ICEMS students in their classrooms and the non-ICEMS students.” There is something that causes the ICEMS students to stand out and to shine. They work better cooperatively, they seem to ask better questions, the quality of their homework is much improved, they don’t mind doing extra work. They find learning to be fun.
If you attended one of those competitions I mentioned you would think that those kids were at a football or basketball game! They are having fun and smiling, but also being competitive. The Science and Math Quiz bowls enable students to model what they have learned in math and science during the school year. The parents and teachers are there, as well as other people from the community. Trophies are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.
This program seems to sell by word of mouth. I have a waiting list of over 60 scholars who want to participate in ICEMS. I have Deans calling my scholars asking if they can tutor on campus. I have not lost a scholar yet; I have only gained them.
Would you like to see your program spread?
Very much. The Atlanta public schools have really bought into this program and support it to the hilt. There has been discussion among the various leaders here in the Atlanta Public Schools System about replicating the program to include all 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th graders because we have powerful documentation that we survive at the end of each year.
Are technology and the Internet helpful to you?
Yes. ICEMS is not quite rich enough yet to buy PCs for all the classrooms, but they are there. The teachers devote a certain number of hours to lessons involving technology. Texas Instruments has provided us with calculators for all students.
We’re moving toward the Internet. This summer, my staff and I have identified a number of Internet resources, and we are looking for ways of integrating them into the program and the school system overall. Among them is The Futures Channel.
How could you a teacher or school find out more about ICEMs?
The best way is to visit us online at www.icems-program.com. And I’d like to mention that this Web site was created by one of our dedicated ICEMS scholars, Richard Makerson. He and another scholar also conducted a research project on the ICEMS model. A paper (Experiencing ICEMS) evolving out of their efforts can be viewed at the Web site. Richard also designed the ICEMS envelope, letterhead and ICEMS newsletter, assisting with its publication and distribution.