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Metaphors We Do Math By: A Comparative Case Study of Public and Catholic School Teachers’ Understanding of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics

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The United States has undergone multiple mathematics reforms since the 1980s with each reform setting out to increase national test scores and improve mathematics education in the nation’s schools. The current reform, the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), seeks to create mathematically proficient students through a more active and rigorous curriculum. The goal of this yearlong study was to examine the understanding that intermediate and middle school math teachers make of the new reform. Math teachers in a Catholic grade school and a public middle school were selected to participate. All four math teachers from the public school and four math teachers from the private school were self-identified as individuals who considered themselves to be actively and consciously implementing the CCSSM. To investigate this phenomenon, I conducted a qualitative case study. Data included interviews with teachers; observations in classrooms, faculty and grade level meetings, and professional development sessions; and the collection of documents, including lesson plans and materials disseminated during professional development sessions. Using professional learning communities and teacher inventory as the conceptual frameworks, I examine how teachers understand the CCSSM and what informs these understandings. Furthermore, I studied how teachers’ personal, non-teaching experiences shaped their teaching practices and their implementation of the CCSSM. The results of the study indicate that teacher understanding of the CCSSM is best understood through the use of personal metaphors. Teachers at the two school sites understood the CCSSM in terms of their own personal experiences and beliefs. Making these connections between their previous experiences and internal beliefs shaped their classroom instruction and teaching practices in different ways than professional development and training has seen. These teachers connected their non-teaching experiences, such as involvement in theatre or the church, with how they interacted with students, the curriculum, and colleagues. Such connections have implications for the professional development and training of math teachers which suggests a focus on personal and real-world connections, rather than solely focusing on content. Overall, this study highlights current practices of math teachers and supports the need to further examine how teachers make sense of reform beyond professional training.

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