Differentiated Professional Development: Building Mathematics Knowledge for Teaching Struggling Learners

This project is creating and studying a blended professional development model (face-to-face and online) for mathematics teachers and special educators (grades 4-7) with an emphasis on teaching struggling math students in the areas of fractions, decimals, and positive/negative numbers (Common Core State Standards). The model's innovative design differentiates professional learning to address teachers' wide range of prior knowledge, experiences, and interests.

Award Number: 
Funding Period: 
Wednesday, September 1, 2010 to Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Project Evaluator: 
Teresa Duncan
Full Description: 

This project under the direction of the Education Development Center is creating and studying a  professional development model for middle school mathematics teachers with an emphasis on teaching struggling math students in the areas of fractions and rational numbers. There are three components to the PD for teachers: online modules, professional learning communities, and face-to-face workshops. There are four online modules 1) Fraction sense: concepts, addition, and subtraction, 2) Fraction multiplication and division; 3) Decimal and percent operations; and 4) Positive/Negative including concepts and operations. Each module is one week long. There are common sessions and special emphasis ones depending on the needs of the teacher. The project addresses three research questions: 1) To what extent do participating teachers show changes in their knowledge of rational numbers and integers, pedagogical knowledge of and beliefs about instructional practices for struggling students and abilities to use diagnostic approaches to identify and address student difficulties?; 2) To what extent do students of participating teachers increase their mathematical understanding and skill?; and 3) To what extent do students of participating teachers show positive changes in their attitudes toward learning mathematics?

In the first year of work on the professional development program, fifty-five teachers will test the initial components of the differentiated modules. In years two and three an additional 160 teachers will participate in the professional development and research to test efficacy of the professional development model. In addition to this testing, twelve teachers will be selected for intensive case studies. Teacher content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and attitudes will be assessed by various well-validated instruments, and changes in their classroom practice will be assessed by classroom observations. Effects of the teacher professional development on student learning will be evaluated by analysis of data from state assessments and by performance on selected items from NAEP and other standardized tests.

This project will result in a tested innovative model for professional development of mathematics teachers to help them with the critical challenge of assisting students who struggle in learning the core concepts and skills of rational numbers and integers. Deliverables will include the on-line modules, materials for workshop and professional learning community work, new research instruments, and research reports.