Scaling up innovative learning in mathematics: exploring the effect of different professional development approaches on teacher knowledge, beliefs, and instructional practice

Abstract

Professional learning experiences (PLEs) provide teachers with opportunities to improve their understanding of mathematics content and teaching practices. However, PLEs are often conducted in person and in small groups—hence costly and localized. The purpose of the current study was to explore different ways for teachers to engage in PLEs and how these approaches might enable the field to scale up these efforts in a sustainable manner. We compared the impact of three PLE formats on the early algebra knowledge and teaching practices of elementary mathematics teachers: (1) a facilitated summer workshop, (2) a multimedia course completed on teachers’ own time, and (3) learning resources provided in the algebra curriculum unit that teachers used individually. Our findings suggest that all three formats can be mapped against a set of principles for quality professional learning. Analysis of pre- and post-treatment measures indicate that participating teachers’ knowledge of algebra content and best practices significantly increased, regardless of the PLE format with which they engaged. Interviews with a subset of the teachers from the three groups point to the key features of each of the formats that can be capitalized on by designers of PLEs.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Project Digital Environments for the Learning and Teaching of Algebra (DELTA) aimed to develop early algebra curriculum for elementary school classrooms and supporting PLE resources for classroom teachers, as well as to test the effectiveness of these resources and their impact on teachers’ content knowledge and practice of early algebra.

  2. 2.

    These six elements have been supported by research. Other possible elements have been proposed, but there is no extensive research to support them.

  3. 3.

    Eight participants had teaching responsibilities across multiple elementary grades because they served as specialists or mathematics coaches. All participants taught the instructional unit at a targeted grade within their research group assignment.

  4. 4.

    The research instruments for these five measures were first piloted with 22 teachers in a Masters-level course and then refined based on analysis from the pilot tests as well as both expert and pilot participant feedback on clarity of the items.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0822034. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. We acknowledge the contributions of Catherine T. Fosnot who was the Principal Investigator of project DELTA (Digital Environments for the Learning and Teaching of Algebra) as well as Maarten Dolk, Kara Imm and Bill Jacob who facilitated workshops for teachers and wrote the units and workshop materials. We also acknowledge the work of former DELTA project staff and advisory board: Maria Blanton, Loren Pitt, Marty Simon, Eve Torrence, and Murray Wickwire.

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Correspondence to Despina A. Stylianou.

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Heck, D.J., Plumley, C.L., Stylianou, D.A. et al. Scaling up innovative learning in mathematics: exploring the effect of different professional development approaches on teacher knowledge, beliefs, and instructional practice. Educ Stud Math 102, 319–342 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10649-019-09895-6

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Keywords

  • Large-scale implementation
  • Professional development
  • Elementary mathematics
  • Algebraic reasoning
  • Professional learning experiences