Shari Stockero is assistant professor of mathematics education at Michigan Technological University and a former high school math and science teacher.
Stockero is studying teacher education experiences and designing new programs for beginning mathematics teachers in middle and high school.
Her research is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award.
The award is worth almost half-million dollars over five years.
In her view, math teaching at its best requires that the teacher listen to the questions and the comments from the students even if those questions and comments are not completely ‘on target’ as far as the lesson plan is concerned.
She feels, and is doing research to prove, that those off-center questions and comments provide a learning opportunity that might be more important than what is provided by the lesson plan.
She gives this example in which students were working on graphing linear functions using the slope and the y-intercept: "A student asked: 'can there be two y-intercepts?' and the teacher said 'no.' The teacher missed an opportunity to talk about the properties of a function, and why there couldn't be two y-intercepts. The teacher didn't ignore the student, but, at the same time, didn't capitalize on the student's question either. There was a lot of important mathematics underlying the question that the teacher didn't address."
Stockero believes that this failure to catch this unscripted moment is usually the fate of new math teachers rather than those with some years behind them.
New teachers, after all, have more on their mind than teaching math.
Creative and inspired as they may be, they are still struggling to find out who they are as teachers and how to fit that inspiration and creative drive into the limits and constraints of the educational system.
However, she wonders if the system and the students can afford to wait until these new teachers achieve this level of maturity.
Her goal then is to study these unscripted moments and how teachers both new and old react to them.
With this data, she intends to design programs that help new teachers recognize these moments and build upon them rather than passing them off.
She wants to know what captures the teacher's attention, be it student behavior or other things not related to the lesson.
She records these moments on video and later interviews the teachers.
She asks them, "'what is it that you are noticing, and why is it important?' I'm not trying to teach them. I'm just trying to document what they are noticing, and why."
What she has seen so far is that many newer teachers enter the room with a definite idea of what they want to teach and how to fit that idea into the lesson plan. They are very good at sticking to the lesson plan, unfortunately they don't know how to deal with inspired interruptions.
She hopes that what she gleans from these studies can eventually help change that.
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