Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge for Teaching Algebra for Equity in the Middle Grades: A Preliminary Report

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge for Teaching Algebra for Equity in the Middle Grades: A Preliminary Report

Article excerpt

This article presents our plans and initial work to explore how mathematics teacher education programs can prepare teachers for diverse middle grades classrooms. It describes the start-up of a five-year National Science Foundation project to design, develop, and test technology-enriched teacher preparation strategies to address equity in algebra learning. The participants in this pilot group demonstrated a need to develop their mathematical problem-solving skills, but they also exhibited strong beliefs about their own potential to be successful in the mathematics classroom. Preliminary results appear to indicate that Second Life (software) simulations can provide rich settings for teacher development on specific mathematics teaching skills and challenge them to apply their ideas about diversity.

Keywords: equity, algebra, technology, pre-service, middle school, achievement gap, virtual simulations

Preparation for teaching for equity requires both mathematical knowledge for teaching (Ball, 2005, Kuhn, 2008) and knowledge of how to address die challenges of teaching aU students (Achinstein & Athanases, 2005). The gap in mathematics achievement between White students and students of color is an enduring chaUenge for mathematics educators and is resistant to change. The autiiors' hypothesis is that the combination of deep and specific mathematical knowledge and a thorough understanding of underrepresented learners are necessary for preparing teachers to close the achievement gap in mathematics. We hypothesize further that powerful technological tools are avaüable that can support teacher development in attaining and applying this important knowledge base to achieve equity in the classroom.

The study focuses on equity in algebra learning for all students. Algebra has emerged as a "filter" that prevents many students from pursuing advanced mathematics courses in high school, which limits their preparation for coUege and/or selection of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. This five-year project was designed to develop and test prototypes of web-based and virtual learning strategies that will enhance pre-service teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching emergent concepts of algebra in the middle grades. The project focuses on knowledge of three primary early algebra concepts: change, variables, and operations (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2000; Kuhn & Capraro, 2008). We will design, develop, test, and implement technology-enriched teacher preparation activities to train middle grade matiiematics teachers to teach these topics effectively to diverse learners.

The work of the project will be different in two important ways from previous attempts to address equity concerns. First, instead of the more general traditional approaches to building multicultural awareness, our strategies to enhance knowledge and skill in teaching diverse students will be developed in the context of the important, specific mathematical content of algebra. Second, in a mathematics problem-solving context, we will use innovative technology-based simulations of classroom situations that challenge pre-service teachers to address equity issues. These simulations will provide more intensive and focused practice with diverse learners than the sporadic opportunities that might arise in classroom observations or other field-based settings. These strategies have great potential for generalization to other topic areas in mathematics and other teacher education programs. The prototype activities are adaptable to a variety of pre-service courses and the technology we are exploring for simulating diverse classrooms is widely available and being used in educational settings (Capretti & Seppala, 2007; Dalgarno & Lee, 2010; Dede, 2009; Hew & Cheung, 2010). Due to the innovative use of the virtual world of Second Life (SL) computer software (htto.7/secondtife.com/) in the project, limited results for similar work are available in the research literature. …

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