Improving Grades 6-8 Students' Mathematics Achievement in Modeling and Problem Solving through Effective Sequencing of Instructional Practices

This project will provide structured and meaningful scaffolds for teachers in examining two research-based teaching strategies hypothesized to positively impact mathematics achievement in the areas of mathematical modeling and problem solving. The project investigates whether the order in which teachers apply these practices within the teaching of mathematics content has an impact on student learning.

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The Researching Order of Teaching project will provide structured and meaningful scaffolds for teachers in examining two research-based teaching strategies hypothesized to positively impact mathematics achievement in the areas of mathematical modeling and problem solving. The first strategy, Explicit Attention to Concepts (EAC), is a set of practices that draw students' attention specifically to mathematical concepts in ways that extend beyond memorization, procedures, or application of skills. This strategy may include teachers asking students to connect multiple mathematical representations, compare solution strategies, discuss mathematical reasoning underlying procedures, or to identify a main mathematical idea in a lesson and how it fits into the broader mathematical landscape. The second strategy, Student Opportunities to Struggle (SOS), entails providing students with time and space to make sense of graspable content, overcoming confusion points, stimulating personal sense-making, building perseverance, and promoting openness to challenge. This strategy may include teachers assigning problems with multiple solution strategies, asking students to look for patterns and make conjectures, encouraging and promoting discourse around confusing or challenging ideas, and asking students for extended mathematical responses. This project investigates whether the order in which teachers apply these practices within the teaching of mathematics content has an impact on student learning. This study builds on previous work that had identified an interaction between the EAC and SOS instructional strategies, and associated teacher reporting of stronger use of the practices with higher student mathematics achievement.

The project will have four key design features. First, the project will adopt and extend the research-based EAC/SOS conceptual framework, and explicitly responds to the call for further research on the interactions. Second, the project will focus on the mathematical areas of modeling and problem solving, two complex and critical competencies for all students in the middle grades. Third, the project will position teachers as collaborators in the research with needed expertise. Finally, the project will make use of research methods from crossover clinical trials to implementation in classrooms. The project aims to identify the affordances and constraints of the EAC/SOS framework in the design and development of instructional practices, to identify student- and teacher-level factors associated with changes in modeling and problem solving outcomes, to analyze teachers' implementations EAC and SOS in teaching modeling and problem solving and to associate those implementation factors with student achievement changes, and to determine whether the ordering of these two strategies correlates with differences in achievement. The project will collect classroom observation data and make use of existing tools to obtain reliable and valid ratings of the EAC and SOS strategies in action.The design of the study features a randomized 2 x 2 cluster crossover trial with a sample of teachers for 80% power. The project builds on existing state infrastructure and relationships with a wide array of school districts in the context of professional development, and aims to create a formal Teacher-Researcher Alliance for Investigating Learning as a part of the project work.

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