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The Role that Teachers' Beliefs about Mathematics Play

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Author(s): Jody Ziccardi Priselac


The Role that Teachers' Beliefs About Mathematics Play in Bringing About Change
in the Elementary Mathematics Classroom: A Professional Development Model

In recent years mathematics educators have stressed the importance of students' developing deep and interconnected understandings of mathematical concepts and principles and not just an ability to memorize formulas and apply procedures. These educators found that mathematics is best learned in environments where students are encouraged to discover and create knowledge of mathematics through inquiry and problem solving. Despite countless efforts aimed at encouraging teachers to embrace this view of teaching mathematics, studies have shown that most teachers have not fully implemented these ideas. Most professional development programs neglect to take into account the beliefs that teachers hold about the nature of mathematics and have therefore had little impact on changing teaching. This study provides an understanding of the relationship between teachers' beliefs about mathematics and how they teach mathematics and the ways in which that relationship interacts with professional development to bring about change in teaching practices.

As part of this study, fifteen teachers from a public elementary school in Los Angeles participated in a professional development program designed to allow the teachers to reflect on their beliefs and practice and to consider new ways of teaching mathematics. Teachers met to analyze student work, do mathematical problem solving, and explore alternative strategies for teaching. Data was gathered from written reflections of the teachers and taped conversations during work group discussions. Teachers' beliefs of mathematics were identified and connected to their instructional practice. Over half the teachers showed evidence of changing their practice as a result of participating in the program.

The findings of this study offer strong support for the utility of designing professional development models that begin with understanding teachers' beliefs about mathematics. Analyzing student work and doing mathematics provide a structure within which teachers can reflect on their beliefs and practice. Exploring alternative strategies gives teachers the tools to change and improve the quality of mathematics instruction in their classrooms.

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