Implementing professional development: a case study of mathematics teachers using inquiry in the classroom context
Mathison, Heather Renee
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A body of research supports the use of inquiry-based instruction in science and its use has been advocated in mathematics, but mathematical inquiry remains ill defined and difficult to enact in the mathematics classroom. While helpful, simply valuing inquiry as a learning tool is not sufficient to enable teachers to implement it successfully with their students. In part, the trouble with using inquiry may arise from the fact that teachers received insufficient exposure to inquiry when they were students themselves. The purpose of this case study was to examine how a sample of four teachers who participated in the Middle Grades Mathematics Project (MGM), an inquiry-based professional development opportunity, viewed inquiry and implemented it in their mathematics classrooms. In addition, this research attempted to identify influences that impacted how these teachers used inquiry. The four teachers selected for this study were identified due to interesting contrasts between their districts (urban vs. rural, traditional vs. reform text, level of involvement of fellow school teachers at MGM) and due to potential for comparison between the experience levels of the teachers within each district. Primary data collection occurred during the spring of 2008 and consisted largely of fourteen classroom observations for each teacher and a series of three semi-structured interviews. This data was supplemented by MGM program data and informal interviews. The four teachers in this case study showed that they had distinctly different interpretations of mathematical inquiry. From their different interpretations, a number of consistent features of inquiry were identified. Mathematical inquiry was found to be a student-centered but teacher-guided experience where students built mathematical meaning and collaborated with one another to hone their ideas. Despite their differing interpretations, all of the teachers acknowledged incorporating mathematical inquiry into their teaching after participating in the professional development. While the use of a reform text presented teachers with more lessons that the teachers felt could easily incorporate mathematical inquiry, the teachers that used a standard text were able to incorporate more mathematical inquiry into their lessons through designing lessons of their own or modifying lessons from outside sources.