Action research in mathematics education : a study of a master's program for teachers
Segal, Sarah Ultan
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Action research is a methodology that has been found to be valuable as a problem-solving tool. It can provide opportunities for reflection, improvement, and transformation of teaching. The purpose of this study is to better understand these claims about the benefits of action research. Several research questions stand out: How is action research experienced by teachers? Is it beneficial and practical for teachers who use it? How are action research findings typically validated? What factors influence whether teachers are able to continue to practice action research? What kind of change has it initiated for teachers? And, how does action research focused on improving student achievement affect high need students? For the past five years, forty-five teachers completing master's degrees in mathematics education at a northern Rocky Mountain land-grant university have been required to conduct an action research project, referred to as their "capstone project." By studying this group of graduates, gathering both qualitative and quantitative data through surveys and interviews, I have examined the effectiveness of action research. This data, combined with graduates' capstone projects, has provided partial answers to the above questions, restricted to faculty-mediated action research within master's programs for mathematics teachers. The extent to which such action research projects impact teachers' practices has not been investigated before. While acknowledging that this research relied primarily upon self-reported data, the results strongly support what the research literature generally asserts about action research. (a) It is beneficial and often transformational for teachers as a professional development tool by allowing them to engage in a focused study of their own practice. (b) When done less formally it becomes more practical. (c) Communicating with others in the field builds confidence in teachers as professionals. (d) It makes teachers more actively reflective and more aware of their teaching and their students' learning. (e) It is effective in understanding and addressing the particular needs of high need students. Continued practice was highly dependent on time and support for action research within the school. Teachers often expressed the importance of having an action research community while conducting their capstones.