Below are some answers to common questions about the EMC Project. For additional information, please contact Elizabeth Burroughs, EMC Project Principal Investigator, at emc@math.montana.edu or (406) 994-3322.
 
Q: What was the project timeline?
The project completed data analysis and publication of results in 2014–2015. During 2009–2014, more than 200 coaches and teachers across eight states participated through coaching sessions, online assessments, and classroom observations. Project researchers collected an unprecedented amount of data to inform the study.
 
Q: Why is this study so important?
Mathematics coaches, teachers, and administrators know firsthand about the drive to strengthen K-8 mathematics and science education in the United States. One new strategy taken by many school systems is the use of instructional coaching, yet very little research existed previously to define what makes a coach effective. What must a coach know about mathematical content, and how to coach mathematics teachers, to be an effective coach? The EMC Project conducted groundbreaking research on knowledge that contributes to successful coaching in these two domains: Coaching Knowledge and Mathematics Content Knowledge. Using EMC research conclusions, school systems around the country can structure coaching programs, and make sound investments, that ultimately result in enhanced student learning in mathematics.
 
Q: What was required of participating school districts?
Schools and school districts throughout the Rocky Mountain and Midwest regions, upon selection for the study, became valuable long-term participants in the EMC Project. As such, schools and districts made the following commitments:
 
  • The school and/or district provided at least one coach and three K-8 teachers for participation in the five-year study. Coaches were randomly assigned to professional development during the study;
  • Coaches conducted at least eight mathematics coaching sessions per teacher per school year—four of which were in the area of number and operation;
  • Coaches followed the EMC Coaching Model (15-minute pre-observation conference; classroom observation; 30-minute post-observation conference);
  • Coaches and their teachers completed various measures annually; and
  • Teachers were observed in the classroom by external observers.

 
Q: How exactly did this research project work?
Project participants initially consisted of 60 coaches selected from a variety of school districts in the Rocky Mountain and Midwest regions, plus three K-8 mathematics teachers for each coach in that coach's district who participated alongside the coach during the five-year period of the study. In the beginning, participating coaches and teachers took written assessments, in the form of online surveys, so that researchers had a "baseline" of coaching knowledge and mathematical content knowledge for each participant. Researchers also observed participating teachers' classrooms at the outset so they could gauge to what degree teaching practices changed over the course of the study. Coaches received an orientation to the EMC Coaching Model early in the study, and teachers received information on how to be good "consumers" of coaching.
 
Throughout the study period, coaches conducted at least eight mathematics coaching sessions per teacher per school year, four of which were in the area of number and operation. Each session followed the EMC Coaching Model (explained below). Each year researchers observed each teacher's classroom at least once. During the five-year period, each coach underwent two (2) five-day professional development workshops, one in coaching knowledge and the second in mathematical content knowledge (a total of 10 days of professional development, which were attended during the summer according to the schedule outlined in Table 1 below). Both coaches and teachers completed annual written assessments in the form of online surveys. The project paid travel expenses and a daily stipend to coaches attending professional development, and both coaches and teachers received a stipend for written assessments taken at the beginning of the study and once each project year.
 
At the conclusion of the study, researchers compiled and analyzed data and published results in peer-reviewed journals.

Table 1. Random Assignment Professional Development Schedule
 
Coaches were randomly assigned to either Group 1 or Group 2 upon acceptance.

YEAR GROUP 1 GROUP 2
Jan-Feb 2010 Coaching Orientation Coaching Orientation
Summer 2010 Mathematics PD  
Summer 2011   Coaching PD
Summer 2012 Coaching PD  
Summer 2013   Mathematics PD

 

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Q: What were the benefits for participating districts, schools, coaches, and teachers?
Coaches and teachers selected for the study, and their schools and districts, received the following benefits over the course of the five-year project:
 

  • A coaching model that could be used immediately and indefinitely;
  • Professional development for coaches on mathematics content and coaching knowledge;
  • Instruments and measures provided by the project that could be used to monitor coaching sessions and reflect on the effectiveness of participants’ coaching relationships and structure; and
  • Compensation for coaches and their participating teachers in return for attending summer professional development and taking online assessments.
 
Q: How were coaches and teachers selected for the study?
The primary consideration for selection was long-term commitment to participation at the school or district level, as well as commitment from coaches and teachers. The study looked for coaches and teachers with a wide variety of experience in both coaching and mathematics. Because EMC was a five-year study, participants had to be willing and able to participate until the study’s conclusion. Each coach participated with the same three teachers in her or his district over that period.
 

Q: What was the EMC Coaching Model?
The EMC Project used the following definition of a mathematics coach:
 
“A mathematics coach is an on-site professional developer who enhances teacher quality through collaboration focusing on research-based, reform-based, and standards-based instructional strategies and mathematics content that includes the why, what, and how of teaching mathematics.”
 
The EMC Coaching Model used a three-phase cycle that included 1.) a pre-lesson conference of at least 15 minutes focused on planning for an upcoming lesson, with emphasis on the teacher’s stated goals, objectives, and needs; 2.) classroom observation of a lesson; and 3.) a post-lesson conference of at least 30 minutes reflecting on the planned teacher actions, with a transition into the next coaching cycle. Coaching sessions focused on aspects of standards-based teaching as defined by NCTM Teaching, Process, and Content Standards and Common Core Standards—not on generic pedagogy such as classroom management.
 
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Q: What mathematics content was the main focus of the project?
The mathematics professional development in the EMC study focused on standards-based and reform teaching. It was centered upon the content of number and operation, with sessions covering number sense, computation, fraction concepts, percents and decimals, and proportional reasoning. Sessions emphasized models, representations, appropriate use of manipulatives, and appropriate applications.
 
Q: Who were the researchers involved with the project?
The EMC Research Team consisted of mathematics professionals at Montana State University in Bozeman, RMC Research Corporation in Denver, and the University of Idaho. Please see this page for more information about the team.
 

Want to Know More?

For additional information on the EMC Project, contact Elizabeth Burroughs, Principal Investigator, at emc@math.montana.edu or (406) 994-3322.
 
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