Supporting Children’s Mathematical Understanding: Professional Development Focused on Out-of-school Practices

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Aug. 01, 2012

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Vol. 15, No. 4, p. 271-291, August 2012.

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study describes the Reflection Connection Cycle professional development program

Goals of the professional development program

The author chose to develop a program that would help teachers find ways to draw on the knowledge students gained from their out-of-school experiences for the explicit goal of using those understandings to support classroom mathematics learning.
The research also presents the possible influence of professional development facilitators and assigned readings on developing a focus on a particular approach to designing lessons that draws on informal mathematical knowledge.

Participants
The participants in this professional development were 14 female elementary school teachers with a range of experience from just 2 years to over 15.
The teachers taught in Kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms (ages 5–12) at six elementary schools in a mid-sized Midwestern metropolitan area of the United States.
While the teachers were predominately White, the schools in which they taught varied widely in their ethnic and language diversity.

Design and structure of the professional development
Given the goal of linking students’ in-school and out-of-school mathematical understandings, the author considered the best way to support teachers’ efforts to design lessons that capitalized on possible connections between these two contexts.

The goal would require teachers to:
(1) discover the mathematics in which their students were engaged outside of school,
(2) match those practices to classroom mathematics,
(3) design lessons that made use of the connections they identified, and
(4) evaluate the success of the lessons they created.
The author provides opportunities to identify how these principles are represented in the design of this professional development program.
The year-long program incorporated group lesson design, readings, and video analysis

Summary and conclusions

The professional development program described here documented the ways in which teachers might draw on the knowledge students have acquired through their involvement in activities outside of school.

This research presents initial understandings of the ways teachers might think about their students’ informal mathematics knowledge.
The research also presents the possible influence of professional development facilitators and assigned readings on developing a focus on a particular approach to designing lessons that draws on informal mathematical knowledge.

Analysis of lesson development, written reflections, and analysis of teacher talk revealed important patterns related to the difficulty in writing lessons that built on students’ informal understandings.
The findings revealed that while initial lessons focused solely on the context of practices like gardening and sports, subsequent lessons show a greater concern for the mathematics in which children were engaged within a practice.

This study also suggests that when context is discussed more generally, teachers may consider different or fewer types of approaches than might have been expected.
The author argues that professional development facilitators may need to be proactive in addressing these approaches more directly.

Further, despite teachers understanding particular ways to approach links between in-school and out-of-school learning, these links do not necessarily directly result in the design of lessons that follow a particular approach.
Specific support in making connections to informal understanding in lesson design may need to be addressed directly.

In addition, a Multi-approach Engagement Framework is presented both as a tool to support further professional development efforts and as a means to describe stability and change in teachers’ efforts to connect in-school and out-of-school mathematical understandings.

The findings also suggest that professional development designers may need to think deeply about the actual text and subtext of their assigned readings.
Given the strength of these articles in addressing the ‘‘big ideas,’’ further publications that include concrete examples likely need to be specifically selected in future development efforts, and likely many of these articles are yet to be written.

Updated: Mar. 19, 2014
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