Potential Project Description for 2011-12


Title: What do secondary mathematics teachers need to know?
Domain Expert: Ryota Matsuura (Math, Stats, CS)

The question of what knowledge secondary mathematics teachers "need to know" to be effective in their classrooms is a subject of enormous national debate. This project seeks to contribute to this debate with work inspired in part by research in science education at Harvard. In a compelling body of work, researchers discovered some fascinating results about what science teachers need to know to be effective. Not surprisingly, teachers needed to know the science they were teaching. More surprisingly, however, if they were not aware of common student misconceptions about science, their students generally did not do well on assessments -- knowing the pitfalls students might face seemed to be almost as critical as knowing the science.

The research team for this project will investigate whether something similar might be true for secondary mathematics teachers. The team will first select a topic in high school mathematics (for example, understanding linear functions), look for common misconceptions arising for students around that topic, and look at how teachers' knowledge of the mathematics and their awareness of those misconceptions might have an impact on their students' learning.