Mathematics content courses for preparing elementary teachers: curriculum and instruction
Callis, Laura Kyser
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Mathematics content courses for prospective elementary teachers have the potential to increase future teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching as well as model high quality instructional practices. This study investigated the instructional practices and curriculum usage of instructors of elementary mathematics-for-teaching courses. This mixed-methods study included a nationwide survey of instructors to identify the instructional practices and curriculum used in these courses. Additionally, this study compared the difference in reported use of instructional practices by survey participants’ academic and professional background characteristics. Two case studies of instructors who used instructional materials developed by the Elementary Pre-service Teachers Mathematics Project (EMP) were also conducted to more deeply describe instructional practices and use of curriculum materials in these courses. Results from the Instructional Practices and Curriculum Use (IPCU) survey (n = 458) indicate that college instructors of mathematics content courses for elementary teachers report using instructional practices supported by research and policy recommendations at higher levels than previous studies on general college STEM courses would suggest. In particular, survey participants reported using instructional practices such as engaging students in mathematical practices, attending to mathematical knowledge for teaching, pursuing students’ ideas, sharing mathematical authority with students, and supporting student-to-student interaction. Use of lecture, small groups, formative assessment, practices that lower cognitive demand, and efforts to achieve active participation varied substantially. The use of these instructional practices varied according to these characteristics, such as the subject and level of a participant’s terminal degree, their appointment to a mathematics department versus a school of education, their experience teaching in PreK–12 schools, at statistically significant levels. This study suggests that the common perception of mathematics content courses for pre-service elementary teachers as remedial and dominated by lecture is not the norm. Analysis of the case studies identified four ways that the participants used the EMP curriculum materials to create mathematically powerful experiences for their pre-service teachers. The case study instructors used the materials to (1) prompt pre-service teachers to examine and use mathematical relationships, (2) hold pre-service teachers responsible for engaging in rigorous mathematical work, (3) assess and make use of pre-service teachers’ thinking, and (4) support pre-service teachers to use mathematical language. The elements of the curriculum that supported the case study instructors were identified at the overall programmatic level, the unit and lesson level, and at the individual problem level. This study demonstrates that curriculum materials can support instructors in using research-based instructional practices, but the design of the materials impacts how instructors are able to use the materials to create mathematically powerful experiences for their students.