Adapting Problem-Solving Cycles in Professional Development with Foundational Mathematics Course Coordinators: A Potential Gateway for Instructional Change
Effective Years: 2022-2025
Undergraduate mathematics courses are required foundational courses for almost all STEM majors, since science, technology, and engineering are all built on mathematical underpinnings. Therefore, effective mathematics instruction at the undergraduate level opens the door to these fields, making it possible for students to pursue studies in scientific and technical areas. Unfortunately, students typically cite ineffective or uninspiring classroom instruction in foundational mathematics courses as prominent obstacles to their degree progress and, as a result, may be discouraged from seeking STEM degrees. It has long been known that using student-centered instructional approaches (e.g., less time spent lecturing and increased use of active-learning strategies) improves student learning outcomes and persistence in math courses. However, because undergraduate foundational mathematics courses are often taught by instructors with little background or training in active-learning strategies, a critical need to provide mathematics faculty professional development to improve instructional practices in these courses remains. The objectives of this project are to develop the PI’s expertise about faculty Professional Development (PD) design; to create, iteratively implement, and examine how PD cycles affect foundational math instructors’ teaching practices and perspectives; and to contribute to theory about supporting meaningful instructional change in foundational mathematics courses. By supporting instructional change, the project should have broad impacts on undergraduate STEM education including the following: improving instruction for students taking foundational mathematics courses, thus positively impacting STEM major’s persistence and involvement in the STEM workforce; and developing an infrastructure and model that can be used to support instructional change and PD in other undergraduate STEM areas.
To inform theory about the key components and factors in faculty PD that support instructional change, this project plans to design, analyze, and refine cycles of PD with foundational mathematics course coordinators in a community of practice around active learning strategies. During pre-existing, bi-weekly Foundational Mathematics Committee meetings, the PI will facilitate PD opportunities with all foundational mathematics course coordinators in her mathematics department. The PD will include iterative Problem-Solving Cycles (where each ‘cycle’ is a series of interconnected meetings organized around a rich mathematical task, enabling instructors to share a common learning, planning, and teaching experience) and a community of practice approach with Core Reflection practices to develop a system of supports with and for the course coordinators. Through the adoption of this design-based research approach (i.e., designing, field-testing, analyzing, & refining), the participating coordinators, the PI, and research team members will collaborate to inform PD design and theory development regarding the key components and factors in the faculty PD program that support instructional change. These results will enable the participating course coordinators to improve their own classroom use of pedagogical strategies that have been proven effective, and to influence instructional innovation among the other instructors of their courses. This project is significant because the theory informed by this PD program will allow other institutions to increase faculty participation in teaching-related PD that has similar impacts on undergraduate mathematics learning outcomes. The project is supported by NSF's EHR Core Research Building Capacity in STEM Education Research (ECR: BCSER) program, which is designed to build investigators’ capacity to carry out high-quality STEM education research.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.