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Brian Bottge Receives $2.3 Million IES Grant to Improve the Math Performance of Low-Performing Middle School Students

by Brad Duncan

photo of Brian Bottge
Brian Bottge

National assessments reveal that many students score at or below the basic level in math. However, thanks to a four-year, $2.3 million Cognition and Student Learning grant from the U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences (IES), University of Kentucky College of Education Professor Brian Bottge will test new ways of improving the computation and problem-solving skills of all students, especially those with learning disabilities (LD).

Bottge, who is the William T. Bryan Endowed Chair in Special Education, will help teachers use an instructional method called Enhanced Anchored Instruction (EAI), which has proved effective in his previous studies. Bottge and his colleagues developed the EAI methods from previous grants, including a $1 million IES development grant, while he was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Although EAI methods were designed specifically for adolescents with LD, they also have been effective with students at all achievement levels

“We at the UK College of Education are very excited about Professor Bottge and colleagues’ work and the impact on teaching and learning in mathematics across Kentucky and nation,” UK College of Education Dean Mary John O’Hair said. “This grant was one of only four grants awarded nationally in the recent IES competition of the Cognition and Student Learning in Special Education program and the first IES grant received by a UK College of Education principal investigator.”

photo of Hovercraft In Action
Professor Brian Bottge helps guide College of Education Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling student Laura Uber as she rides a hovercraft. Bottge used the device to show his instructional technology course students how to teach the Hovercraft Challenge.

By the time low-performing students reach middle school, many dislike math and do not see the purpose in learning it. By carefully embedding math concepts and skills in contexts that interest them, students realize how math can help them in their daily lives. EAI gives students opportunities to build their problem-solving skills and computational fluency together, with one reinforcing the other. The EAI modules Bottge uses focus on fractions concepts and pre-algebraic concepts, which are two areas of mathematics students with and without LD find especially difficult to understand.

Results of previous studies with EAI have shown that students improved their math skills and attitudes toward math. At the conclusion of a study, one student was particularly proud of his new skills. As Bottge approached the school entrance, the student shouted, “Hey Bottge, I solved your problem.” Another student who earned perfect scores on the post test and transfer task whispered to Bottge, “Don’t tell my parents about this. They will faint.”

“These kinds of statements from students are common,” Bottge said. “We have known for a long time that some students need a different kind of instruction in math. What we haven’t done very well is develop instructional contexts to help students understand that math is a valuable tool in their lives. These contexts must be powerful to engage students in meaningful activity and carefully crafted to increase their math performance.”

Along with co-principal investigators and fellow UK College of Education faculty members Jane Jensen, Xin Ma and Michael Toland, and colleague Allan Cohen at the University of Georgia, Bottge will conduct large-scale studies to test the efficacy of EAI in middle school special education and general education math classrooms. Bottge and colleagues will show teachers how to use EAI with their students and then measure its effects on math achievement and classroom engagement.

Bottge thinks the teacher role has been key in his work with EAI. No matter what the instructional method, its success depends on how well it is implemented. One of the most enjoyable aspects of his previous studies, Bottge says, is getting to work with talented, caring teachers. He is excited about getting to make new partnerships with Kentucky teachers.