Integrating Service learning in Mathematics in an At-Risk School as a Vehicle for Teaching Curriculum Theory, Assessment, and Design

Madeline Kovarik
Rollins College, USA


This research project considers the effect of service learning in mathematics as a methodology to apply general curriculum principles. The project participants were undergraduate students enrolled in a non-mathematics curriculum theory and design course at an urban, at-risk public school. Participants completed pre- and post-surveys. Analysis of survey data indicates that service learning experience enhanced student learning in both curriculum design and mathematics.

Introduction/Guiding Principles

This study assesses the impact of an undergraduate curriculum course with a mathematics service learning component in an at-risk, urban, public elementary school. The curriculum course was designed to make mathematics the impetus for the study of curriculum theory and design through service learning. This approach is significantly different from how curriculum courses are generally taught. Typically, curriculum courses are confined to the college experience with little or no opportunity for the student to apply the theory in a classroom environment. Knowledge gained in this type of environment requires minimal critical thinking because students transfer and internalize knowledge gained based on individual perceptions rather than educational realities. This can lead to false or unrealistic beliefs regarding teaching in the classroom environment and does not adequately prepare students for the classroom.

A student’s individualized beliefs concerning curriculum are formed by the student’s personal educational experiences. These experiences may be drastically different from an urban classroom. The approach used in this study builds on the foundation of educational theory and knowledge by providing an experience that allows pre-service teachers to construct a more complete and beneficial understanding of their own knowledge within a real-world environment. This leads to the formation of student perceptions of curriculum based on fact and experience rather than individualized beliefs. Providing students with a shared experience enriches discussion of curriculum issues because it is based on common ground.

Integrating the college classroom with the elementary school environment has the potential to provide additional academic support for the urban classroom. The dual goals of this service learning were to have a positive effect on the college students’ perspective and understanding of both curriculum theory and the issues facing urban schools and enhance the classroom experience of the elementary students. The study results indicate that pre-service teachers increased their awareness regarding the issues faced in urban schools. They felt that were better able to identify current problems facing today’s schools and develop a more realistic perspective regarding the effort and time required to influence change. This awareness may make them better able to seek potential solutions throughout their academic studies. The survey of the elementary students that participated in the study also indicates a positive change in attitude concerning mathematics.

Review of the Literature

Impact of Service learning on the College Student

Often, an education major’s first supervised classroom experience is during junior or senior semester student internships. Students need to be placed in classrooms prior to internships so that they can determine if this is their correct career path and to increase curriculum knowledge (Arnett & Freeburg, 2008). Furthermore, teacher competence in the area of mathematics is especially critical for future classroom success (Anderson, 2005).

Placing college students in real-world classrooms earlier in their academic careers enables the students to gain a better understanding and awareness of the application of learning theories as the concepts are being learned and discussed within their classes. Hadlock (2005) states that “Assuming the new role of teacher or service provider, students find themselves motivated to seek a level of mastery that may well exceed their standard profile as somewhat passive participants in a professor-dominated course.” Additionally, students tend to view the course as engaging, fun, and stimulating (Billig & Meyer, 2002) thereby motivating the students to go beyond passive receptors of knowledge to active participants with increased future effectiveness. Morris (2008) states “Knowledge development, however, is a necessary but insufficient factor in becoming an effective math teacher, because teaching is a practice.”

Service learning in mathematics is one technique that provides the needed practice in curriculum principles while supporting mathematics instruction. Lloyd (2006) states “it is important for pre-service teachers to recognize that there are many ways that curriculum developers might approach instruction about a particular mathematical topic. Embedded in such approaches are different philosophies of teaching and learning that fulfill a variety of cultural and social purposes. Experiences with curriculum analysis can prepare pre-service teachers to make reasoned decisions about the selection and adaptation of instructional materials in their future mathematics classrooms.”

Curriculum courses generally focus on the theoretical foundations of writers such as Bobbitt and Tyler. These, and other, theories are typically taught within the isolation of the college classroom. However, this insular approach is limiting because it does not allow for what Aristotle (1976) categorized as the three disciplines of knowledge: 1) the theoretical (the gathering of facts), 2) the practical (doing) and 3) the productive (reflecting and improving). College generally does an excellent job of teaching the theoretical. However, it often overlooks the practical and productive, clearly critical elements of effective teaching. College coursework, particularly in teacher education programs where professors should be modeling teaching excellence, should reflect all three areas. Teaching general curriculum theory using mathematics together with service learning as a tool provides a tangible method for tying together theory, practice and productivity. This complements the theoretical focus of the college classroom by providing a means to focus on the application of theory for effective curriculum development.

Integrating service learning into collegiate course work has additional benefits. The experience fosters an increase in student understanding of socio-historical politics, contexts, and morality, and helps students consider how to their actions influence changes in society (Yates and Youniss, 1998). For many students, the problems facing urban schools are so removed from their personal lives that they do not initiate behavioral changes that could have a positive impact (Hornsby, 2007). Early urban classroom experience allows the students to form an increased awareness of the issues facing these schools and the students being served. They begin to feel that their actions can have a positive impact on educational environments (O’Bannon, 1999; Cairn, 1999) and recognize the contribution their actions make to the community (Melchior, 1999). Through service learning experiences, students demonstrate increased civic responsibility and service ethics (Stephens, 1995). They also “strengthen their disposition and skills to study and improve their teaching ” (Taylor & O’Donnell, 2004).

Impact of Service Learning on the Urban School Student

Focusing on mathematics through service learning also has a potential benefit to the students in the urban school, many of whom live in poverty (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996). Marzano (2004) indicates that students from poverty fail at a rate of up to 85% higher than higher socio-economic students. Research has indicated that math test scores are also negatively impacted by poverty (Arrighi & Maume, 2007). The National Center for Education Statistics (2002) has shown that Kindergarten students who live in poverty are less likely than students from non-poor families, to be able to perform mathematics skills including addition and subtraction. This is true for the school involved in this research where 45% of the community partner students receive services from the Coalition of the Homeless. Recent research by Balfanz and Byrnes (2006) concerning mathematics achievement in high poverty schools found that a strong instructional program, student support, and “caring and daring instructional programs ” are critical for academic success. Efforts such as the project described in this paper, may provide the assistance that high poverty, urban schools need to promote mathematics achievement.

Role models are also important in mathematics achievement, especially for students in poverty (Ozturk & Singh, 2006). The influence of role models has been well-documented in social learning theory (Bandura, 1977). A core concept of this theory is that role models inspire, motivate and promote higher educational goals. In this study the college student acted as a role model helping the community partner students gain knowledge about college and what it is like to attend higher education. This outreach is critical for students in poverty if they are to consider higher education (Association of Community College Trustees, 2008).

Another factor is the gender of the college students. In urban settings, such as the one in this study, the absence of male role models may foster involvement in street activities such as gang or drug organizations, particularly in black males (Anderson, 2008). Having the opportunity to have several college males participating in this study, allowed the elementary students exposure to a positive male role model. This influx of males is important because men typically volunteer fewer hours than women (Stiefvater, 2007).

The literature review supports this research and indicates that both pre-service teachers and the urban elementary student will benefit.

Research Questions

The research focused on three questions:

RQ1: Are pre-service teachers able to perceive the complexities, interrelationship and magnitude of the problems experienced in urban classrooms?

RQ2: Would pre-service teachers gain, apply, and reflect on new skills and knowledge learned through observations of practicing teacher(s) in an urban classroom?

RQ3: Would pre-service teachers gain an appreciation regarding the differing levels of elementary student’s mathematical capabilities?


College Participants

The course was an undergraduate Curriculum for Diverse Learners class, mandatory for elementary and secondary education majors. The curriculum course was designed to teach curriculum assessment, design, and application through mathematics instruction.

The class consisted of seventeen undergraduate teacher education majors. The composition included three freshman, five sophomores, six juniors and three seniors with ages ranging from 18 to 22. Fourteen were female and three male. For four of the students this was their first class in the education department; for three students it was their final course prior to a semester of student teaching. The ethnicity of the class was self-identified as: two Hispanic, one Hindi, three Black-American, and eleven white non-Hispanic. Four were secondary education majors; thirteen were elementary education majors.

Because secondary education majors do not enroll in the Mathematics Methods course that is required for elementary education majors, these students enter the teaching profession with expertise in their chosen subject area but without exposure to mathematics methods. It is possible, therefore, for a secondary science major to graduate prepared to teach the domains of science but with no experience or expertise in teaching the mathematics that often accompanies scientific investigations. By integrating mathematics instruction into a core curriculum class, the secondary education students received exposure to the principals of mathematics instruction.

Community Participants

After a review of potential educational settings, an urban elementary school was identified as a community partner. The school was chosen due to its’ need. In 2007 – 2008, the school did not satisfy the criteria of the Federal No Child Left Behind Act. Factors that influenced this result were that 1) students with disabilities needed continued improvement in reading and 2) both African-American and students with disabilities needed improvement in mathematics. This need was addressed in the 2008 -2009 school goal: “to assist all students to meet proficiency by 2014 and to assure that each child is given the maximum opportunity to achieve at high levels.”

The community partner school was founded in 1947 and is located in a downtown metropolitan area. The school is 55% African-American, 24% Caucasian, 13% Hispanic, 3 % Asian, and 5% Other. English speakers of other languages (ESOL) comprise 10% of the student population. 77% of the students receive free or reduced price lunch. 45% of the students receive services from the Coalition of the Homeless.

The study occurred in a Kindergarten class that mirrored the demographics of the school. The class consisted of seventeen students including two students who were repeating Kindergarten and two pre-Kindergarten students who were up-phased into the Kindergarten class for advanced academics.

Information on the community partner was shared with the undergraduate students. This is an important element of learning, as participants need to feel prepared for the experience and to allow input which increases the likelihood of a successful experience (Cohen & Lewis, 2004). Fifty per cent of the students indicated that this was their first experience teaching within an urban high-need, culturally diverse elementary school.

Research Design

Data were collected over a four month period through pre- and post-surveys. Survey data was analyzed for differences between pre- and post-surveys to assess relevance to the mathematical curriculum. A structured reflection was incorporated to obtain information beyond survey data and to promote a future civic involvement (Finlay, Flanagan, & Black, 2007).

Throughout the semester, the college students were introduced to curriculum theorists, development, differentiation, and driving forces behind curriculum change. To show curriculum change over time, emphasis was placed on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards with emphasis on the evolution of the standards and how the standards have been used to shape state curriculum standards.

While developing the course requirements, careful consideration was given to how mathematics might be used to teach the general principles of curriculum. For example, when discussing current and future curriculum trends, emphasis was placed on the inclusion of the new National Council of Teachers of Mathematics focal points and the addition of financial literacy within the state standards. By using the mathematics curriculum as a focus, it was anticipated that the students would be better able to understand the curriculum process.

After an initial understanding of curriculum theory and design was established, the students began applying the principles learned through the service learning experience in the urban Kindergarten classroom. In conjunction with the community partner’s classroom teacher, it was decided that the primary emphasis would be directed towards increasing number sense. Number sense is a foundational skill of mathematics and is a predictor of future math achievement test scores (Halberda, Mazzocco, & Feigenson, 2008). Number sense and the academic and developmental ranges the students might observe within the Kindergarten classroom were first discussed in the college classroom.

During initial meetings, the students first introduced themselves to their Kindergarten student and allowed the Kindergarten students some time to acclimate and become comfortable. They then performed an initial assessment of the student’s number sense. The data were aggregated and discussed in the college class to focus on curriculum design and differentiation. Based on the assessment results and the class lectures and discussions, the college students developed an individualized curriculum to address the needs indicated by the initial survey. For the remainder of the service learning experience, the students implemented the curriculum at the urban school, performed informal assessment of its effectiveness and modified the curriculum when appropriate.

After administering the post-survey, a discussion was held in the college classroom that focused on individual and patterns of growth rates within the Kindergarten class. The college students expressed surprise at the varied levels of growth in number sense exhibited by the individual Kindergarten students. Curriculum modifications necessary to address these differences were then discussed.

At the close of the service learning experience, the Kindergarten students completed a post-assessment on the project. This survey was limited to four questions and was administered by the classroom teacher. The students responded to the questions by selecting their choice from three faces: a frown, a neutral face, and a smiling face. The purpose of this survey was to gain qualitative assessment of the impact of the presence of the college students in the elementary classroom. Although not the primary focus of the study, this survey provided insight into the elementary students’ experience and provided additional information regarding how well the project met the community partner needs. Future study will consider expanding the pre- and post- survey instruments to include a pre- and post- survey of the elementary students as well as the college students. The next section discusses the results of both surveys.


Pre-Service Teacher Survey

The pre-survey questionnaire was administered during the initial course meeting. The post-survey was administered in during the final week of the course. All students enrolled in the course completed both surveys. The survey included 20 questions that used the Likert scale selections of: 1 = Strongly, 2 = Somewhat disagree, 3 = Neither agree nor disagree, 4 = Somewhat agree, and, 5 = Strongly agree. A T-test analysis was performed on the survey data. T-test analysis sometimes does not accurately reflect the statistical significance of Likert scale data is due to the use of ratio versus ordinal data. Consequently, a Chi-square analysis was also performed as a secondary evaluation of the statistical significance of the t-test results. This secondary test addresses the question typically associated with Likert scale data which argues that it is impossible to know if a selected response has any significant tendency towards the response on either side. (i.e. Does a selection of “Somewhat agree ” lean more towards “Strongly agree ” or “Neither agree or disagree “?)

The survey questions for this study are shown in Table 1. The students’ pre-survey responses provided a baseline for a statistical comparison of the post- survey data to assess the relative impact of the experience on the students.

Table 1: Survey Questions
# Question Assessment Objective Research Question
4 I have a better understanding of how complex the problems facing school are. Does the student appreciate the complexities and interrelationships of the problems experienced in the urban setting? RQ1
13 I learned how to work effectively with others. Does the student see the role of the teacher as collaborative or independent? RQ3
14 I learned specific new skills during the service learning. Did the student gain new skills as a result of the service learning experience? RQ2
15 I learned that students have different abilities. Did the student gain an appreciation of the differing levels of the elementary student’s capabilities? RQ3
17 I personally reflected on this experience. Did the student reflect on the experience? RQ2
18 I learned from watching professionals in a real-world classroom environment. Did the student gain new instructional techniques through observation of a practicing teacher? RQ2
19 I understand how difficult it is to make a difference in one semester. To what degree does the student realize the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing urban schools? RQ1

Table 2 shows the mean difference, T-test, and significance level for the math related survey questions on the pre- and post-survey. Based on the analysis, question 4 showed a statistically significant change in the mean value between the pre- and post-surveys. This would indicate that the experience of teaching math curriculum in an urban school setting increased the awareness of the problems facing such schools.

Table 2: Survey Results
Question No. of Observations Mean Difference (Post-Pre) T-Test Significance Level
4 17 0.647 2.524 0.023
13 17 0.412 1.595 0.130
14 17 0.353 1.595 0.130
15 17 0.294 1.429 0.172
17 17 0.412 1.595 0.130
18 17 -0.235 -0.889 0.387
19 17 0.471 1.725 0.422

Given the significance of the results of question 4, it would appear that not only did the students gain an appreciation of the problems facing urban schools but also discovered the magnitude of the problems and the realization that a sustained effort is required to address these issues. The remainder of the data did not indicate statistical significance for the rest of the survey questions. Although the analysis of the responses for question 19 did not meet the criteria for statistical significance, the increase in mean value between the pre- and post- surveys did indicate that there was some relevant change between the pre- and post- surveys.

As noted earlier, a chi-square analysis was also performed to validate the results of the t-test. The results of the chi-square analysis are shown in table 3. The calculations indicate that question 4, which had the most significant t-test value, in fact did not pass the chi-square criteria for statistical significance. Although the t-test results for questions 13 and 17 did not indicate statistically relevant data, the chi-square test results showed more statistical significance than question 4.

Table 3: Chi-Square Analysis
Question No. of Observations Chi-Square Degrees of Freedom Significance Level
4 17 7.144 6 0.308
13 17 4.767 3 0.190
14 17 1.927 4 0.749
15 17 1.4385 2 0.487
17 17 8.998 6 0.174
18 17 5.397 6 0.494
19 17 30.55.3 12 0.002

Overall, the mean difference between the pre- and post- survey indicates that the service learning experience in mathematics reinforced the college level instruction in curriculum assessment, design and implementation.


This section provides a discussion regarding the results that apply to each research question. Each question is addressed in a singular fashion.

RQ1: Are pre-service teachers able to perceive the complexities, interrelationship and magnitude of the problems experienced in urban classrooms? (Question 4 & 19)

The pre- and post-responses to question 4 indicate that the experience provided college students with a better understanding of the problems facing urban schools. This reinforces prior research in the area of early experience in the classroom and its effect on the perspective and viewpoints of the students. If students can identify current problems, they will be better able to seek potential solutions through their academic studies.

While the t-test for question 19 did not meet the threshold for statistical significance, the chi-square results indicated that question 19, in fact, had the most statistically significant pre- and post-data. The responses to question 19 indicated a change in the students’ perspective regarding their impact in the urban school environment. The data indicated that, after the experience of teaching mathematics in an urban school setting, the students have a more realistic perspective of the level of effort and time required to effect change in the urban classroom. This is critical because students must realize that change occurs in stages and that they may need to become the future leaders that direct the change.

RQ2: Would pre-service teachers gain, apply, and reflect on new skills and knowledge learned through observations of practicing teacher(s) in an urban classroom? (Questions 14, 17, & 18)

Overall, the mean difference between the pre- and post-survey indicates that the service learning experience in mathematics reinforced the college level instruction in curriculum assessment, design and implementation. Although questions 14 and 17 did not meet the criteria for statistically significant data, the results were significant and the questions addressed the areas of working effectively and reflection, both key areas in the development of mathematical curriculum. It is interesting to note that when the data was segregated according to secondary and elementary majors, there was a notable difference. Secondary education majors demonstrated a decrease in student reflection; secondary students decreased by 0.25 while the elementary increased by 0.62. This may be due to the fact that the students could not see the relevance of teaching mathematics in the urban Kindergarten classroom. Future studies are planned and will be conducted to gather more data exploring these aspects.

The responses to question 18 showed a decrease in value. In self-reflection concerning the study, it appears that the pre-service teachers would have preferred more professor and classroom teacher modeling of the mathematics curriculum with elementary students. The course emphasis was placed on mathematics curriculum assessment, design, implementation, and modification. As a result, the modeling phase was not as extensive as the pre-service teachers apparently needed. Future field experiences will incorporate additional modeling.

RQ3: Would pre-service teachers gain an appreciation regarding the differing levels of elementary student’s mathematical capabilities? (Question 13 & 15)

Results for this question were mixed and based on future teaching grade level. In response to question 13, secondary education students mean responses decreased by .25 while elementary education scores increased by .46. This difference warrants further study because, while secondary education majors work primarily within their subject area, it is important for them to be able to be collaboratively with other subject area teachers. For example, a science teacher must be able to work effectively with the mathematics teacher in order to promote student achievement. Question 15 had a similar difference; secondary education majors may have the belief that the developmental and academic differences they will be exposed to may not be as varied as those found in the education classroom. This is not the case especially when teaching in junior or middle school environments.

Community Partner Survey A pre- and post-survey was distributed to the Kindergarten students in the community partner’s classroom. The survey consisted of four questions. There were: (1) This is how I feel about math, (2) This is how I feel about someone teaching me math other than my teacher, (3) This is how I feel about doing the activities that we did together, and, (4) This is how I feel about the college students working in my classroom. The classroom teacher explained that the college students had been studying to become teachers and that they were interested in coming into the Kindergarten classroom and working with the students in mathematics. The classroom teacher than read each question pausing between questions to allow response time. The students responded by circling one of three faces: a frown signifying “I don’t like it, ” a neutral face explained as “It is okay, ” and a smiling face explained as “It’s fantastic.” Survey pre- and post-responses were statistically significant in student attitudes towards math. Pre-survey mean response was 2.154. Post-survey mean response showed a positive increase in student attitude towards mathematics with a mean of 2.769 indicating that the techniques used during the service learning experience had a positive influence on elementary student attitudes about mathematics.


The results of this study indicate several implications both in regards to the integration of service learning in pre-service teacher education as well as meeting the needs of urban elementary school students. These include:

  1. Service learning should be incorporated into college coursework. Pre-service teachers cannot learn to address problems if they have limited or no exposure to them. College education courses are frequently taught in isolation of the issues facing schools. This isolation can be exacerbated by college faculty who entered academia directly from their college career. Consequently, unless they supervise teacher interns, they have little or no exposure to the public school system or the demands of classroom teaching. This lack of experience hinders their understanding of classroom issues facing their graduates and, consequently, their ability to prepare their students for classroom teaching. Some states, such as Florida (2005), have residency requirements that mandate education professors work in schools a minimum of three days each year. However, the manner in which the professors meet these requirements is open to interpretation. This lack of well-defined requirements adversely impacts pre-service teacher preparation because perceptions differ from reality. Coupling service learning with classroom experience helps build a balanced understanding of the issues the students may face as teachers with related educational theory. This can help students to be more focused on their coursework because they have a grasp of the relevance of the course content. However, this requires that the college professor or service learning practitioner have relevant classroom experience. Then, when a pre-service teacher identifies a classroom concern, the professor is able to provide a perspective that is based on both classroom experience and educational theory. Through service learning, pre-service teachers realize the impact a teacher has on curriculum development and student learning.
  2. Service learning helps pre-service teachers gain an understanding that change occurs with time and in a systemic fashion. Participants in this study grew to realize that school change requires a systemic and organized effort. Pre-service teachers frequently enter the field with the attitude “I am going to change the field of teaching ” but have little knowledge on how to prepare for or manage change. An emphasis on change management is often lacking in pre-service teacher education programs. However, in preparing new school administrators, courses such as “Administering Change in Education ” or “Systemic Change for School Improvement” are often required. Pre-service teachers must develop this critical knowledge. This can be achieved by providing service learning experiences, such as the one in this study, which allows them to witness the change process.
  3. Enhance college curricula through service learning and broaden the design of courses to integrate other areas of study. When developing pre-service education courses, it is important to consider not only the information to be delivered but also the level of mastery. College courses that remain at Bloom’s knowledge level will have less long-term impact than those that require the application of knowledge in real world settings. During course development, professors should consider the scope and sequence of the course to determine if concepts might be applied through service learning experiences. This may be realized through integration with other pre-service coursework such as the integration of mathematics in this study.
  4. Service learning experiences and the integration of college students into the community school must occur at the appropriate school level for the college student’s major. This curriculum course included both elementary and secondary majors. The results identified that the secondary education majors viewed the experience differently than elementary education majors. This indicates that is important to connect the service learning experience to the students’ intended teaching level (i.e. elementary vs. secondary) in order to establish relevance.
  5. Curriculum theory should be taught with modeling and application through service learning in the real-world classroom. Teaching learning theory without application is similar to conducting a cooking class and never cooking the recipes in the class. Acquiring the skill, in addition to the knowledge, is an important requirement of any profession. Curriculum theory is more readily remembered and understood when the theories are used and applied. The elementary core subject of mathematics enables college students to understand curriculum concepts including design, pacing and analysis. The pre-service teachers in this study entered the elementary classroom with a strong curriculum foundation but no perspective on how to apply this knowledge. Study results indicate that, through service learning, students realized how limited their knowledge actually was (i.e. all book sense) and that more modeling was needed to increase the success of application. This is a radical deviation from the traditional college classroom environment where pre-service teachers rarely witness their education professors teaching and modeling in a public school classroom. Through service learning, the experience gained by practice and working with an accomplished teacher, they realize the impact of both the teacher and the curriculum when skillfully applied within the classroom. This is a powerful message for pre-service teachers and validates the use of service learning in college coursework.
  6. Secondary education majors need to develop an awareness of how the skills learned within their disciplines relate and are reinforced to other subject areas. Although students take core education courses, the majority of their preparation lies within their chosen field of study. It is critical that they view their field of study as not content-area specific. During this study, some secondary education majors had difficulty making a connection between teaching problem solving in mathematics to Kindergarteners to teaching problem solving in a different discipline area.Broadening the scope of the content area is important because a secondary science teacher who is discussing the laws of motion must understand the curriculum of the secondary calculus teacher. Attempts to have these students look towards expanding their field is not new. Bullock, Snow, Park and Rodriquez (2002) studied the influence of developing an interdisciplinary curriculum for secondary education majors that helped pre-service teachers view themselves as ‘educators’ versus content-area specialists. Education classes must increase interdisciplinary study.
  7. Secondary education majors can benefit from additional information regarding secondary student’s developmental stages. Study results indicate that secondary education majors believed that the developmental levels of their students will not be as varied as those of elementary school students. While the developmental differences in Kindergarten are significant, so are those of the adolescent who is experiencing issues concerning vocational choices, relationships (including intimacy), the establishment of goals, self-exploration and independence. Secondary education majors must be made aware of the developmental issues facing their future students and how these differences may influence instruction.
  8. Service learning can result in a positive change in the attitudes of the recipients. In this study, there was a positive change in the elementary student attitude towards mathematics. This may be due to a number of factors including increased personal attention and the implementation of an individualized curriculum that addressed the student’s academic level and needs. The positive change is important because attitudinal changes may influence a student’s participation in the mathematics curriculum. For example, Shimi’s (1992) research showed that a student’s attitude towards mathematics had a significant impact on performance. This finding is not unique to mathematics; in a more recent study on student attitude, Oral (2008) showed that students’ attitude towards technology influenced its use. By improving the Kindergarten student’s attitude, mathematics achievement may increase thereby helping the school obtain its academic goal of improving mathematics achievement.

The establishment of service learning relationships between pre-service education programs and urban schools will improve the quality of teacher education graduates, enhance mathematics instruction, and provide curriculum support for urban schools. Partnerships, such as the one in this study, demonstrate the effectiveness of utilizing service learning to enrich both learning environments.

Limitations of the Study

There are two potential limitations of the study. The first is, because it involved a single college course and one urban, elementary classroom, the sample size, N, is somewhat limited. Consequently, the degree of accuracy of the statistical significance between pre- and post-survey data may have been more affected by the demographics of the course. The second potential limitation was the unexpected difference in the distribution of elementary versus secondary education majors. Both of these aspects will be addressed in future studies.

The results of this study indicate that secondary education majors perceived the experience differently than elementary education majors. If the composition of the college class was comprised of a higher number of secondary education students, providing a more equal representation of the two groups, study results may have been more significantly influenced due to perceived relevance. If, however, the curriculum class was specifically designed and offered to only secondary education majors, and the service learning experience was implemented in a public junior or senior high, then the results might be influenced and the differences in perception eliminated because the college students would see a greater relevance to their future career.

Independent of the above limitations, the sufficient data obtained indicated that further study is warranted and will serve as a pilot for a larger study to be conducted in the future involving a larger sample size with increased service learning in mathematics. Additionally, future urban, service learning experience may be incorporated into the elementary mathematics methods course and a comparison to core curriculum classes completed.


The success of urban mathematics instruction rests on the skills and attitudes of future teachers. Results of the study indicate that both the pre-service teachers and urban Kindergarten students benefited from the project. College classrooms must not be enclaves but must seek ways to integrate into and support the community. Pre-service educators need exposure to urban classrooms early in their academic career so that they will be better able to connect the theories learned to the practicalities of the real-world.

Albert Einstein said “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” Although this study used mathematics as the subject area, teacher preparation programs must change if there is to be student improvement in the classroom. This requires new ways of looking at content and curriculum, not as stand-alone disciplines, but as domains that can be integrated into core education courses through the civic commitment embodied in service learning. This paper presented one method of achieving this goal and improving the future of mathematics instruction in urban schools.


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 About the Author:

Dr. Madeline Kovarik has experience as a college professor, teacher, guidance counselor, primary specialist, and school administrator. She has spoken a numerous local, state and international conferences. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Education at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Mathematics Content and Methods, Diversity, and Curriculum..

Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) sunsetted October 1, 2015. Mesa Community College hosts content from The Journal for Civic Commitment, published by the CCNCCE, to ensure it remains publicly available.

The important work of the CCNCCE was made possible through the financial support from many civic-minded foundations and organizations, including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America-Higher Education program, the Kettering Foundation, Campus Compact (through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Foundation for Women, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation, and The Teagle Foundation.