MANSFIELD -- Robert Moses has had a profound impact on schools throughout the nation -- including local educational institutions -- because of his nonprofit organization, known as the Algebra Project.
In recognition of his work to ensure quality public education for every child in America, educators at The Ohio State University at Mansfield nominated Moses for an honorary doctorate from OSU.
Moses will be given an honorary doctorate during the OSU Autumn Commencement on Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Jerome Schottenstein Center. This is one of numerous honorary doctoral degrees the civil rights activist will have received.
The Algebra Project, founded in 1982, grew from teaching math in one Cambridge, Massachusetts school to more than 200 middle schools across the country by the late 1990s, according to the Algebra Project website.
"The Algebra Project takes a unique approach to school reform by building coalitions of stakeholders within the local communities to develop sustainable, student-centered math curricula designed especially to provide high-quality education to historically underserved populations," said OSU-Mansfield's Associate Dean Norman Jones in his nomination letter to the honorary degrees committee at OSU.
The Mansfield area was introduced to the Algebra Project in 2008 when the Algebra Project was awarded a National Science Foundation grant for five years involving four university partners in four states, including the Mansfield campus of Ohio State.
"While helping to write that grant, Mansfield also won an OSU Excellence in Engagement grant in 2008. This internal grant allowed Mansfield to initiate our involvement in the Algebra Project a year before the start of the NSF grant, Jones wrote.
"As this work on the Mansfield campus and in its surrounding communities began to show consistent promise, local school officials originated the idea of — and found funding for — extending Algebra Project pedagogy and curriculum design processes to the entire Mansfield K-12 school district.
"In 2012 the Algebra Project entered into a formal collaboration with Mansfield City Schools and the Mansfield campus to develop this new direction. By the conclusion of the NSF grant in 2013, Mansfield had established itself as a new laboratory for Algebra Project ideas."
OSU-Mansfield Dean Stephen Gavazzi said the Ohio State Mansfield campus has been creating significant partnerships with local school districts through the Algebra Project over the years.
"To have the founder of the Algebra Project, Robert Moses, receive an honorary doctorate at Ohio State’s Autumn Commencement further highlights the importance of the work that our Math and Teaching and Learning faculty members have been conducting," Gavazzi said. "And the subsequent visit that Robert Moses will make to the Ohio State Mansfield campus will allow campus and community members to learn more about these critical collaborations with the schools."
According to OSU-Mansfield Mathematics Professor Lee McEwan, who serves as an Algebra Project site director, local Algebra Project efforts originally targeted a cohort of Mansfield Senior High School students over the course of four years. The students graduated in 2013.
"The students in that one classroom did far better than similar peers," McEwan said.
The Algebra Project has grown to reach other local school districts, in addition to Mansfield City Schools, including Clear Fork Valley Local School District and Lucas Local School District.
McEwan is encouraged by the response he's seen from teachers who are willing to participate in this initiative.
"It's amazing," he said. "People come out of the woodwork with ideas and energy."
Moses praised Mansfield for its partnership, saying he's astounded by the way in which the area has latched onto the Algebra Project for the sake of students' education.
"Not only has the project taken hold in the (Mansfield Senior) high school with the NSF grant, but it's taken hold in the Mansfield campus through Lee McEwan and expanded down into middle and elementary schools in a number of small school districts surrounding Mansfield using not the actual materials per se, but the method of exposing the students and teachers to the way in which mathematics language is related to their ordinary language," Moses said.
When asked what advice he gives to educators, Moses responded:
"The thing that we really are trying to get teachers and administrators to understand is that the most important ingredient in all of this is the students themselves.
"Currently math primarily is an instrument for convincing students that they don't do math, and so how do you use math itself to help form a culture among the students that they do math?"
Learning math, he analogized, should be like playing a sport.
"The traditional math class is teacher-centered and the students are to copy down and absorb what the teacher is saying," he said. "With sports, the coach isn't out there playing, but in the math class, it's the teacher that's 'playing' the math and the students are the spectators.
"So how do you shift that so the students are the players and the teacher is in some sense the spectator and coach, helping students figure out how to play this math game better?"
Moses will visit Mansfield for a few days after receiving his honorary degree on Sunday.
"We want to give people in the community a chance to meet him," McEwan said. Accordingly, there will be a private reception at Riedl Hall Monday evening with several community stakeholders in attendance.
Moses will also meet with high school and college-aged students, teachers, faculty and administrators at other times during the week.
At one session in particular, local math teachers will have the chance to sit down with Moses and discuss how to deepen their effectiveness in the classroom.
"We're seeking to grow this group of dedicated teachers who can carry this on long beyond what their district does in connection with us (the Algebra Project)," McEwan said. "There's a national consensus that this is the way to go.
"If you're going to reform mathematics teaching and get the profession of math teaching to thrive, then you have to have a bunch of teachers who are committed to doing that."
According to Moses, the National Science Foundation has issued a challenge that aims to broaden participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) through the creation of "alliances."
"The NSF is going to fund five alliances in 2017 and each alliance will be funded for five years, $2.5 million a year, to try to attack this problem of broadening participation in STEM," Moses said.
The Algebra Project and the Young People's Project are funded to create a design and development proposal and also to hold a conference on how to construct such an alliance.
"What's exciting is that the Algebra Project and the Young People's Project, through a couple of decades of zeroing in at a micro level on a little piece of this problem in different parts of the country, are actually positioned to invite people to see whether they actually want to construct an alliance," he said.
Moses said he'll be meeting with a number of local administrators to talk about this idea of forming an alliance.
"We want an alliance which pulls together the people who have the problem, and the problem we want to work on is the level of math literacy for students who leave high school.
"If their goal is college, then they're ready to take college math for college credit. If their goal is some career, then math is not an obstacle to that career goal."