CAREER: Investigating Changes in Students' Prior Mathematical Reasoning: An Exploration of Backward Transfer Effects in School Algebra

This project explores "backward transfer", or the ways in which new learning impacts previously-established ways of reasoning. The PI will observe and evaluate algebra I students as they learn quadratic functions and examine how different kinds of instruction about the new concept of quadratic functions helps or hinders students' prior mathematical knowledge of the previous concept of linear functions. This award will contribute to the field of mathematics education by expanding the application of knowledge transfer, moving it from only a forward focused direction to include, also, a backward focused direction.

Full Description: 

As students learn new mathematical concepts, teachers need to ensure that prior knowledge and prior ways understanding are not negatively affected. This award explores "backward transfer", or the ways in which new learning impacts previously-established ways of reasoning. The PI will observe and evaluate students in four Algebra I classrooms as they learn quadratic functions. The PI will examine how different kinds of instruction about the new concept of quadratic functions helps or hinders students' prior mathematical knowledge of the previous concept of linear functions. More generally, this award will contribute to the field of mathematics education by expanding the application of knowledge transfer, moving it from only a forward focused direction to include, also, a backward focused direction. An advisory board of scholars with expertise in mathematics education, assessment, social interactions, quantitative reasoning and measurement will support the project. The research will occur in diverse classrooms and result in presentations at the annual conferences of national organizations, peer-reviewed publications, as well as a website for teachers which will explain both the theoretical model and the findings from the project. An undergraduate university course and professional development workshops using video data from the project are also being developed for pre-service and in-service teachers. Ultimately, the research findings will generate new knowledge and offer guidance to elementary school teachers as they prepare their students for algebra.

The research involves three phases. The first phase includes observations and recordings of four Algebra I classrooms and will test students' understanding of linear functions before and after the lessons on quadratic functions. This phase will also include interviews with students to better understand their reasoning about linear function problems. The class sessions will be coded for the kind of reasoning that they promote. The second phase of the project will involve four cycles of design research to create quadratic and linear function activities that can be used as instructional interventions. In conjunction with this phase, pre-service teachers will observe teaching sessions through a course that will be offered concurrently with the design research. The final phase of the project will involve pilot-applied research which will test the effects of the instructional activities on students' linear function reasoning in classroom settings. This phase will include treatment and control groups and further test the hypotheses and instructional products developed in the first two phases.

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