CAREER: Partnering with Teachers and Students to Engage in Mathematical Inquiry about Relevant Social Issues

This project team partners with the mathematics department of one urban public charter high school that serves 65% students of color (most of whom identify as African American). At the school, 70% of all students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 25% of the students have Individualized Education Plans. This project investigates: 1) how mathematics teachers learn to teach the mathematics content through investigation of relevant social issues, 2) how teachers negotiate classroom dilemmas related to this approach, and 3) how students feel about mathematics and their ability to enact change toward an equitable society.

Full Description: 

Despite efforts to address racial, gender, income-level and other kinds of inequities, disparities persist throughout society in educational, occupational, financial, and healthcare services and opportunities. To work toward societal equity, mathematics teachers have shown increased interest in both improving students’ achievement and supporting students’ ability to use mathematics to analyze these inequities to create change. For instance, a mathematics task may use rate, ratio, and proportion to explore the gender wage gap, and then use functions to explore disparities in earnings over time. Few resources, such as textbooks, coaching protocols, or video examples of classroom teaching, however, exist to support mathematics teachers’ efforts to teach the mathematics content while investigating relevant social issues. In addition, research indicates several dilemmas teachers face in maintaining the cognitive demand of the task, addressing state standards, and improving student agency through such investigations. Research is needed to understand how teachers learn to adapt and implement mathematics tasks that facilitate students’ mathematics learning and investigation of social issues. This project team partners with the mathematics department of one urban public charter high school that serves 65% students of color (most of whom identify as African American). At the school, 70% of all students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and 25% of the students have Individualized Education Plans. This project investigates: 1) how mathematics teachers learn to teach the mathematics content through investigation of relevant social issues, 2) how teachers negotiate classroom dilemmas related to this approach, and 3) how students feel about mathematics and their ability to enact change toward an equitable society. The professional development will be co-designed with mathematics teacher leaders from the school and the research team and will last three years. Teachers will invite students to become advisory board members to center students’ voices and solicit feedback about the relevance of the social issues embedded in the tasks. Classroom videos will be captured to share on a project website for use by mathematics teacher educators and professional development providers. The website will also host mathematics tasks designed through this project for teachers’ use in their own classrooms.

This qualitative, participatory design study partners with the mathematics department to investigate the following research questions: (1) How do teachers learn to adapt mathematics tasks to make them cognitively demanding and socially relevant for their students? How do contextual factors (e.g., specific school context/location/history, student backgrounds, teacher backgrounds, such as race and class) influence teacher learning? (2) What dilemmas become salient and how do teachers negotiate them while implementing the tasks? (3) How do these tasks improve students’ attitudes about mathematics and feelings of empowerment?  In the first year, the research team and two mathematics teacher leaders from the school will co-design the professional development experience focused on designing and implementing mathematics tasks grounded in issues that are socially relevant to students. In years 2-4, the mathematics department will engage in this professional development, with continual input from teacher participants. Participants will create student advisory boards who will offer feedback to teachers about the relevance of the mathematics tasks. Participants will video tape their own classrooms to share brief vignettes (5-8 minutes long) that highlight dilemmas and/or successes for video club sessions as part of the professional development series. Video club sessions offer opportunities to discuss challenges and successes with colleagues and offer peer support. These video clips will also become video case studies, along with the mathematics task and teacher reflections, for use by mathematics teacher educators and professional development providers through a project website. In addition, years 3-4 the project team will develop four detailed classroom case studies, accompanied with coaching support from the research team. To answer research questions 1 and 2 regarding teacher learning and dilemmas, teachers’ perspectives will be captured through professional development artifacts, coaching debriefs, teachers’ written reflections, and one-on-one semi structured interviews. To answer research question 3 regarding student agency and attitudes about mathematics, student sentiments will be explored through student work, open-ended surveys, and focus group interviews with eight focal students per classroom case study. A project website will share mathematics tasks and video cases with the broader community of mathematics educators. Through distribution of such materials, the project aims to offer much-needed resources and supports for mathematics teachers to use cognitively demanding and socially relevant mathematics tasks with their students. The project will also publish peer-reviewed research articles to share findings with the field.

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