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Deepening Teacher Content Knowledge

Professional learning opportunities for teachers of mathematics and science have increasingly focused on deepening teachers' content knowledge. Teachers' mathematics/science content knowledge makes a difference in their instructional practice and their students' achievement, according to a number of research studies. And data collected from expert practitioners has implications for the design of state MSP projects aimed as deepening teacher content knowledge. A. Evidence that Teacher Content Knowledge Matters 1. Teacher content knowledge influences how teachers engage students with the subject matter. In mathematics, more knowledgeable teachers were more likely to present problems in contexts that were familiar to the students and to link problems to what students already learned. Teachers who understood multiple representations of mathematics concepts were able to use these representations to further students' understanding. In contrast, teachers with less mathematics knowledge tended to focus on algorithms rather than on the underlying mathematics concepts. More knowledgeable teachers tended to approach students' questions mathematically and solve problems collaboratively, rather than looking up correct answers in response to students' questions. Similarly, in science, teachers with deeper content knowledge were more likely than those with weaker knowledge to pose questions, suggest alternative explanations, and propose additional inquiries.1 2. Teacher content knowledge influences how teachers evaluate and use instructional materials. Knowledge of mathematics/science had a bearing on teachers' evaluation of instructional materials. More knowledgeable teachers were more adept at identifying a coherent mathematics/science storyline in materials, while less knowledgeable teachers struggled to do so. In mathematics, content knowledge also had an impact on teachers' instructional decisions when using materials. When teachers with limited content knowledge departed from their instructional materials, they augmented with mathematical representations of their own choosing, which tended to obscure or distort the concepts students were expected to learn. In science, when planning lessons on familiar content, teachers had a sense of how to build a storyline by presenting concepts in a logical sequence. In unfamiliar areas, they were aware of the need for appropriate sequencing, but were unable to identify the key concepts.2 3. Teacher content knowledge is related to what students learn. Only a few studies have examined the relationship between teacher content knowledge and student achievement in mathematics or science, and the results present a mixed picture. From two studies in mathematics, a total of four relationships between teachers' content knowledge and student learning were examined. In three instances, a positive relationship was found, for two cohorts of elementary grades students over a three year period and for grade 3 students' learning of advanced concepts. In one instance, grade 3 students learning of basic concepts, no
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See A1 in bibliography for the research on how teacher content knowledge influences how teachers engage students with the subject matter.
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See A2 in bibliography for the research on how teacher content knowledge influences how teachers evaluate and use instructional materials. Horizon Research, Inc. 1 June 2008

relationship was found. In science, a total of three relationships between teacher content knowledge and student learning were examined. In two instances, a relationship was documented between teachers' content knowledge, both correct and incorrect, and their grade 8 students' development of correct and incorrect understandings, respectively. In the third instance, high school biology teachers' knowledge of the nature of science was not found to relate to their students' learning about the nature of science.3 B. Insights on Designing Professional Development to Deepen Teacher Content Knowledge 1. Professional development planners need to focus on a small number of important goals. It is important that professional development planners choose a set of goals consistent with the needs of the participating teachers and feasible to address within the time and resources available. Whatever goals are chosen, professional development planners need to make difficult decisions about how far they can go in pursuing those goals. Also, while a single well-designed session can significantly increase teachers understanding of concepts where they have sufficient prerequisite knowledge, they need to encounter new or particularly complex ideas in multiple contexts in order to develop deep understanding. 2. Professional development planners need to develop a plan for achieving those goals. It is important to give explicit attention to how each planned activity is intended to contribute to a particular goal or set of goals, enabling designers to go beyond activities that have the potential to deepen teacher content knowledge to those that are likely to accomplish the goal(s). In designing efforts to deepen teacher content knowledge, it is important to meet teachers where they are, and provide opportunities for them to move forward in their understanding. Professional development planners need to accommodate the fact that any group of teachers is likely to have a range of understanding. 3. Professional development planners need to decide on a sequence of program activities. Some experienced program leaders argue that disciplinary content knowledge needs to be addressed first; teachers cannot apply what they do not know, and it makes little sense to consider student learning of the content before the teachers themselves understand it. Others argue that disciplinary content and classroom applications need to be addressed in an integrated fashion -- to motivate teachers to engage in the work, to enable them to apply what they are learning to their instruction, and on efficiency grounds. It is likely that either approach can be effective if designed and implemented well. Additional data on deepening teacher content knowledge can be found at www.mspkmd.net

See A3 in bibliography for research on how teacher content knowledge is related to what students learn. 2 June 2008

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Bibliography A1. Teacher Content Knowledge Influences How Teachers Engage Students with the Subject Matter Alonzo, A. C. (2002). Evaluation of a model for supporting the development of elementary school teachers science content knowledge. Proceedings of the Annual International Conference of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science. Charlotte, NC. Anders, D. (1995). A teachers knowledge as classroom script for mathematics instruction. Elementary School Journal, 95(4), 311324. Brickhouse, N. W. (1990). Teacher beliefs about the nature of science and their relationship to classroom practices. Journal of Teacher Education, 41(3), 5362. Bright, G. W., Bowman, A. H., & Vacc, N. N. (1998). Teachers frameworks for understanding childrens mathematical thinking. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, San Diego, CA. Cai, J. (2005). U.S. and Chinese teachers constructing, knowing, and evaluating representations to teach mathematics. Mathematical Thinking and Learning An International Journal, 7(2), 135169. Chi-chung, L., Yun-peng, M., & Ngai-ying, W. (1999). Teacher development, not accountability control, is the key to successful curriculum implementation: A case study of two primary schools in northeast China. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, Montreal, Canada. Chinnappan, M. & Thomas, M. (1999). Conceptual modeling of functions by an experienced teacher. Making the Difference. Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia Incorporated. Cunningham, C. M. (1998). The effect of teachers sociological understanding of science (SUS) on curricular innovation. Research in Science Education, 28(2), 243257. Fennema, E., Carpenter, T.P., Franke, M.L., Levi, L., Jacobs, V., & Empson, B. (1996). A longitudinal study of learning to use childrens thinking in mathematics instruction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 27, 403434. Fennema, E., Franke, M. L., Carpenter, T. P., & Carey, D. A. (1993). Using childrens mathematical knowledge in instruction. American Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 555583. Fernndez, E. (1997). The standards-like role of teachers mathematical knowledge in responding to unanticipated student observations. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.

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Gess-Newsome, J. & Lederman, N. G. (1995). Biology teachers perceptions of subject matter structure and its relationship to classroom practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(3), 301325. Heid, M. K., Blume, G. W., Zbiek, R. M., & Edwards, B. S. (1999). Factors that influence teachers learning to do interviews to understand students mathematical understandings. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 37, 223249. Lederman, N. G. (1999). Teachers understanding of the nature of science and classroom practice: Factors that facilitate or impede the relationship. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(8), 916929. Lehrer, R. & Franke, M. L. (1992). Applying personal construct psychology to the study of teachers knowledge of fractions. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 23(3), 223241. Leung, F. & Park, K. (2002). Competent students, competent teachers? International Journal of Educational Research, 37(2), 113129. Llinares, S. (2000). Secondary school mathematics teachers professional knowledge: A case from the teaching of the concept of function. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 6(1), 4162. Lubinski, C. A. (1993). More effective teaching in mathematics. School Science and Mathematics, 93(4), 198202. Ma, L. (1999). Knowing and teaching elementary mathematics: Teachers understanding of fundamental mathematics in China and the United States. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Prawat, R. S., Remillard, J., Putnam, R. T., & Heaton, R. M. (1992). Teaching mathematics for understanding: Case studies of four fifth-grade teachers. The Elementary School Journal, 93(2), 145152. Roehrig, G. & Luft, J. (2004). Constraints experienced by beginning secondary science teachers in implementing scientific inquiry lessons. Research Report. International Journal of Science Education, 26(1), 324. Sanders, L. R., Borko, H., & Lockard, J. D. (1993). Secondary Science Teachers Knowledge Base When Teaching Science Courses in and out of Their Area of Certification. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30(7), 723736. Schwartz, J. E. & Riedesel, C. A. (1994). The relationship between teachers knowledge and beliefs and the teaching of elementary mathematics. Paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, Chicago, IL.

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Sowder, J. T., Phillip, R. A., Armstrong, B. E., & Schappelle, B. P. (1998). Middle-grade teachers mathematical knowledge and its relationship to instruction. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Spillane, J. P. (2000). A fifth-grade teachers reconstruction of mathematics and literacy teaching: Exploring interactions among identity, learning, and subject matter. The Elementary School Journal, 100(4), 307330. Stein, M. K., Baxter, J. A., & Leinhardt, G. (1990). Subject-matter knowledge and elementary instruction: A case from functions and graphing. American Educational Research Journal, 27(4), 639663. Thompson, P. W. & Thompson, A. G. (1994). Talking about rates conceptually, Part I: Teachers struggle. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 25(3), 279303. Warfield, J. (2001). Teaching kindergarten children to solve word problems. Early Childhood Education Journal, 28(3), 161167. Wilkins, J. L. M. (2002). The impact of teachers content knowledge and attitudes on instructional beliefs and practices. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, 24, 10. Wilson, M. R. (1994). Implications for teaching of one middle school mathematics teachers understanding of fractions. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association, New Orleans, LA. Zbiek, R. M. (1995). Her math, their math: An in-service teachers growing understanding of mathematics and technology and her secondary students algebra experience. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education, 17, 9. A2. Teacher Content Knowledge Influences How Teachers Evaluate and Use Instructional Materials Lloyd, G. M. (2002). Reform-oriented curriculum implementation as a context for teacher development: An illustration from one mathematics teachers experience. Professional Educator, 24(2), 5161. Lloyd, G. M. & Wilson, M. S. (1998). Supporting innovation: The impact of a teachers conceptions of functions on his implementation of a reform curriculum. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 29 (3), 248274. Manouchehri, A. (1998). Mathematics curriculum reform and teachers: What are the dilemmas? Journal of Teacher Education, 49(4), 276286.

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Manouchehri, A. & Goodman, T. (1998). Mathematics curriculum reform and teachers: Understanding the connections. Journal of Educational Research, 92(1), 2741. Manouchehri, A. & Goodman, T. (2000). Implementing mathematics reform: The challenge within. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 42, 134. Sanders, L.R., Borko, H., & Lockard, J.D. (1993). Secondary science teachers knowledge base when teaching science courses in and out of their area of certification. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 30(7), 723736. Sherin, M. G. (2002). When teaching becomes learning. Cognition and Instruction, 20(2), 119 150. A3. Teacher Content Knowledge Is Related to What Students Learn Hill, H. C., Rowan, B., & Ball, D. L. (2005). Effects of teachers mathematical knowledge for teaching on student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 42(2), 371 406. Lederman, N. G. (1999). Teachers understanding of the nature of science and classroom practice: Factors that facilitate or impede the relationship. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(8), 916929. Magnusson, S., Borko H., Krajcik J. S., & Layman J. W. (1992). The relationship between teacher content and pedagogical content knowledge and student content knowledge of heat energy and temperature. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National American Association for Research in Science Teaching, Boston, MA. Mullens, J. E., Murnane, R. J., & Willett, J. B. (1996). The contribution of training and subject matter knowledge to teaching effectiveness: A multilevel analysis of longitudinal evidence from Belize. Comparative Education Review, 40(2), 139157.

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