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The IERI Research Community :: Projects

IERI: Improving Mathematics Teacher Practice and Student Learning Through Professional Development

Jo-Ellen Roseman


Background: By investigating the relationships among professional development, curriculum materials, teacher knowledge, teacher behavior, and student achievement, our research will shed light on how these elements work together to improve student learning in mathematics. Our project takes advantage of the variety of curriculum development and implementation efforts that currently exist in mathematics education and addresses key questions asked by policy makers, educators, and the public: Can the reform curricula really improve student learning? Under what conditions does such learning occur?

Purpose: The purpose of our IERI project is to study how to provide, on a large scale, the professional development and continuing support that teachers need to improve student achievement in mathematics. We are creating a classroom observation utility and instruments for assessing student learning, exploring relationships among the variables in the study, and experimenting with the content and the modes of delivery of professional development.

Intervention: This study explores the extent to which professional development can work in tandem with highly rated curriculum materials to help teachers change their instructional patterns so that they become more goal oriented and develop competence in pedagogical practices that lead to student understanding of the target learning goals.

Through the professional development intervention, teachers are (1) introduced to criteria for effective goals-based instruction through examples and counter examples from their materials and from videotapes of their teaching, (2) given practice applying the criteria to new examples while receiving feedback from the leader and peers, and (3) expected to apply the criteria to their own teaching. In each workshop teachers carefully examine a subset of the instructional criteria, learn how to recognize from videotapes and their textbooks when those instructional criteria are evident in lessons aimed at particular learning goals, and consider how best to use their textbooks effectively to apply this knowledge and these skills in their own teaching.

We plan to measure teacher knowledge and attitudes as outcomes of professional development by asking them to complete a number of open-ended tasks that will allow us to estimate how much they have learned about the ideas being presented and, perhaps, give us some insights into their attitudes as well. We do not plan to measure changes in their understanding of mathematics as this is not a primary focus of this study.

Setting: The study involves nine school districts in the southwest and mid-Atlantic. The school districts are urban, suburban, and rural and enroll students with a range of demographic characteristics, such as ethnicity, SES, etc. Data collection on student achievement took place during the 2002-2003, 2003-2004, and 2004-2005 school years.

Research Design: Eighty-one teachers participated in the first phase of the study over the course of three school years (2002 through 2005) and represented 155 different classrooms. This includes 6th, 7th, and 8th grade classrooms in which students and teachers were videotaped and students took the study assessment and also classrooms that participated in only one or the other of the study activities. In total, 705 classroom periods were videotaped and more than 12,000 pre- and post-tests were administered to students over the three-year study period.

The first phase of the study compared the student learning results from 155 middle school mathematics classrooms using one of four curriculum materials, including three NSF-funded reform materials and one traditional textbook.

Changes in teacher practice were measured by analyzing videotaped lessons using a Web-based video analysis tool developed by Project 2061. Enacted lessons drawn from both NSF-funded and traditional curriculum materials were analyzed based on their alignment to specific content (a targeted mathematics benchmark and related ideas) and on the extent to which teachers made use of a subset of six specific instructional strategies adapted from the instructional criteria used in Project 2061's curriculum materials analysis procedure.

Student learning was measured using assessments designed by Project 2061 to focus on the same content that was targeted in the enacted lessons. Students in grade 6 were tested on Number and Data benchmarks, and students in grades 7 and 8 were tested on Algebra and Data benchmarks. The analysis of student learning began in fall 2003 using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

Findings: Although the analysis of data is not complete, preliminary findings suggest that professional development based on teachers' evaluation of their own videotapes can be a powerful catalyst for motivating change in teaching practice, by helping teachers to think deeply about their instruction in terms of targeted learning goals. The data also showed that students using the two textbooks that were rated highly in AAAS Project 2061's textbook evaluation study had nearly identical post-test achievement by the end of grade 8, even though the books took different instructional approaches and presented different content coverage. Although additional analysis of the data is needed, these findings suggest that the AAAS Project 2061 textbook evaluation procedure may have important predictive value in judging the potential effectiveness of curriculum materials.

Capraro, M. M., Kulm, G., & Capraro, R. M. (2005). Middle grades: Misconceptions in statistical thinking. School Science and Mathematics, 105, 165-174.

DeBoer, G., Morris, K., Roseman, J. E., Wilson, L., Capraro, M. M., Capraro, R., Kulm, G., Willson, V., & Manon, J. (2004, April). Research issues in the improvement of mathematics teaching and learning through professional development. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA. Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

George, P. (2006, January/February). Project 2061: Classroom video cameras can be crucial in teacher training. 2061 Connections. Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

Goals-based mathematics study produces unique data set. (2005, May/June 2005). 2061 Connections. Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

Making a difference in middle grades mathematics: A goals-based approach. (2004, May). 2061 Connections. Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

Naiser, E. A., Wright, W. E., & Capraro, R. M. (2004). Teaching fractions: Strategies used for teaching fractions to middle grades students. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 18, 193-198.

Solving the equation: Project 2061 studies factors that improve student learning in mathematics. (2002, Fall). 2061 Today, 12(2). Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

Using classroom videos as a vehicle for teacher/researcher dialogue. (2004, November). 2061 Connections. Retrieved May 15, 2006, from

Texas A&M University has created a Web site ( designed to keep teachers and other participants informed about project activities and progress. The Middle School Mathematics Project (MSMP) site is updated monthly and contains the project's newsletters, information about participants, and other resources. You also can learn more about this project by visiting the Teaching and Learning page of the AAAS Project 2061 Web site at

Project-related tools that can be found online include the Classroom Observation Utility, which is a computer utility for documenting and analyzing classroom observations and teacher behavior, and a Utility for Scoring Student Assessments that allows students to answer all of the test items in their original test booklets, without the need for any additional forms. The test booklets are digitally scanned, and the scorers are able to view the scanned version of the test papers via the Internet. The scoring rubrics for each of the tests are also part of the utility.