Teaching math effectively

Three University of Georgia education researchers will study how mathematics teachers understand professional development, how that impacts their understanding of mathematics and what difference that makes to student learning.

The three-year project, which will begin this month, is funded by a National Science Foundation grant of nearly $1 million. It will involve about 90 mathematics teachers from Atlanta Public Schools, a collaborating partner.

“These are important questions because little is known about what impact professional development has on teachers’ practices or on student achievement,” said Chandra Orrill, the project’s principal investigator and a research scientist in the College of Education’s Learning Performance and Support Laboratory.

Andrew Izsák, associate professor of mathematics education, and Allen Cohen, director of the Georgia Center for Assessment and professor of educational psychology, are co-principal investigators.

The research will look at the relationship between professional development and student learning in three key areas including what the teachers learned from professional development, whether there are indications that the teachers’ practices changed as a result of their participation and whether there are measurable changes in student understanding that can be attributed to teacher learning.

The UGA researchers will work with about 60 sixth and seventh grade math teachers participating in a 50-hour professional development program that focuses on Number Concepts, one of the key foci of middle grades mathematics. This is the mathematics area that includes working with fractions, decimals, percents and proportions. Thirty teachers will be tracked as a comparison group.

The professional development program is one of several courses from the InterMath project, which was developed by UGA education researchers with previous NSF funds and explicitly designed to meet the needs of Georgia’s mathematics teachers.

The team will provide professional development experience for the teachers that will include assessments of their understandings as well as interviews about their teaching. The teachers also will be asked to administer a pretest and posttest to their students focused on some of the critical mathematical ideas. A subset of the teachers will be asked to participate in subsequent case studies in which researchers will videotape their teaching for analysis.

“We are using state-of-the-art instruments, and both statistical and video-based data collection methods to maximize our chances of seeing any connection and explaining what may or may not be occurring,” Izsák said. “We do not take any connections as given.”

The $999,958 grant, from the NSF’s Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering program, will help cover expenses for data collection and teachers’ participation in the workshops, as well as for researchers’ time to collect and analyze the data. The project is also expected to employ three graduate students.