Prime Online: Developing Grades 3-5 Teachers’ Content Knowledge for Teaching Mathematics in an Online Professional Development Program

Mar. 01, 2015

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 15(1), 14-43, (2015).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study aimed to investigate the impact of a yearlong, online teacher professional development (oTPD) program, Prime Online, on teachers’ mathematics knowledge for teaching (MKT) and to examine the components of a PD program that impacted participants’ MKT.

Twenty-three third- through fifth-grade teachers completed a yearlong online teacher professional development program focused on improving MKT, instructional practices for all learners (particularly those with disabilities), and practitioner inquiry.
The participants included 17 elementary general education and 6 special education teachers from 18 schools in 14 school districts across one southeastern US state.
Ninety-one percent (n = 21) were female, with the same proportion indicating their ethnicity as White.
Data were collected through CKT-M measures (LMT, 2001a, 2001b) were administered three times: as a pretest prior to the oTPD program, midprogram test after Segment 2, and posttest after Segment 3; and through focus group interviews which conducted twice across the 1-year PD program.


The analysis indicates latent growth modeling and focus group data indicated growth in participants’ content knowledge and initial growth in knowledge of students from pretest to midtest, with a decline at the end of the program.
Mathematical modeling, engaging with practitioner-focused journals and websites, developer-constructed materials, classroom implementation, and reflection and discussion provided participants with the opportunities for professional development resulting in increased MKT.
The combination of these activities, rather than any single component, likely had a collective effect on teachers’ MKT.
Further, this evidence supports the assertion that Prime Online was developed to support the critical development of social, teaching, and cognitive presence, which are hypothesized to contribute to the creation of powerful online learning environments.
Finally, challenging participants to implement the activities within their classroom likely supported their knowledge of subject matter as well as pedagogical content knowledge. Examining students’ thinking within clinical interviews provided teachers the context to reflect on the mathematics content from at least three perspectives.

Two themes emerged in this study.
Many teachers designed projects with the intention of engaging their students in activities to develop stronger conceptual understandings of mathematics.
At the end of these projects, teacher participants revealed that the instructional strategies they used positively impacted their students’ learning.
In addition, the teachers’ comments provide evidence of greater MKT.
These data provide convincing evidence that in the teachers’ own judgments, their content knowledge for teaching mathematics, and their understandings of their students’ mathematics thinking were both enhanced throughout the yearlong oTPD program.


Therefore, educators must better understand the design features of PD programs, especially oTPD programs, that support teachers’ knowledge growth and change instructional practices.
The authors conclude that that Prime Online has potential to provide teachers with ongoing, rigorous, high-quality learning opportunities for impacting their knowledge of mathematics content and pedagogy and of their students.

Learning Mathematics for Teaching. (2001a). Elementary number concepts and operations – content knowledge. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
Learning Mathematics for Teaching. (2001b). Elementary number concepts and operations – knowledge of content and students. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Updated: Jul. 22, 2015


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