NSF CAREER grant funds research to help mathematics educators better understand student learning process

by The College of Education   /   Jun 20, 2013

Professor Gloriana González is the principal investigator of a new CAREER grant funded by the National Science Foundation. The $853,675 grant started in May and will run through April 2018. The grant will fund the mathematics education research project titled "Noticing and Using Students' Prior Knowledge in Problem-Based Instruction." CAREER grants are highly competitive and touted by the NSF as the "most prestigious awards" supporting junior faculty.

According to González, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, the project’s goal is to advance knowledge of professional development experiences that help mathematics teachers notice and take into account students' prior knowledge. It involves the creation of a two-year study group with geometry teachers that incorporates elements from Lesson Study. In the study group, the teachers will examine videos from their own classroom and animated vignettes of classroom instruction with the purpose of increasing their attention to student thinking.

Results of this study, as well as the protocols and instruments developed during the research project, will improve professional development initiatives by connecting instructional decision-making more explicitly to research on student learning.

“Two fundamental assumptions in the project are that by providing opportunities for teachers to share their expertise with colleagues in teacher learning communities they will improve their practice and that representations of teaching help teachers to examine their practice," González explained. She said the project is innovative because it will provide insights about how to blend the use of videos and animations to promote teacher learning. "Ultimately, I expect to create a professional developmentframework specifying the resources and activities that increase teachers’ capabilities to take into account students’ prior knowledge,” she added.

The NSF's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program encompasses the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty. The awards recognize and support faculty such as González who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations. Applicants must demonstrate how activities will build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

The grant naturally aligns with González's research, which focuses on how mathematics teachers manage students' prior knowledge in problem-based instruction. She is interested in examining teachers' decision-making when handling students' prior knowledge and the rationality underlying those decisions.