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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Forming a Math Crew: Supporting Beginning Teachers to Navigate the Tensions and Contradictions of Equity-oriented Mathematics Teaching

  • Author(s): Scott, Mallika
  • Advisor(s): Schoenfeld, Alan
  • et al.

This dissertation was motivated by a deep commitment to creating robust mathematics learning communities for teachers and for students that are grounded in care, dignity, and connection. Designing for learning from this relational perspective requires disrupting dehumanizing aspects of systems of schooling that function to construct difference and reproduce inequity. For teachers committed to such a vision, the first years of teaching can bring many contradictions and tensions, often with little support for how to navigate them. This dissertation examines the learning that can become possible for beginning teachers when they are immersed in a learning community oriented toward the shared commitment of creating ambitious and equitable classroom mathematics communities.

For this study, I invited six beginning elementary school teachers from the same teacher preparation cohort to join me in designing a learning community, named Math Crew by participants. Drawing on the methodology of social design-based experiments, we co-designed a learning ecology with new tools, artifacts, discursive practices, and norms to support robust learning toward our shared commitments. I acted as lead designer, facilitator, and researcher in the community. The design included monthly community meetings and classroom visits from me as the facilitator. Analyses examined learning over time as changes in participation in community conversations and in classroom teaching, and learning in interaction as a collective process mediated by the designed environment of Math Crew.

Findings indicate that being immersed in the Math Crew activity system supported participants to shift from fixing local problems in their classrooms to engaging in relational investigations of teaching and learning that centered students’ mathematical experiences. This shift toward relational, student-centered investigation co-evolved and was amplified across community conversations and classroom teaching. Analyses revealed that as participants surfaced and engaged with tensions of equity-oriented teaching, they made visible and contested some of the tacit deficit-focused ways of seeing students, mathematics, and teaching that are prevalent in systems of schooling. As teachers collectively engaged with material representations of schooling, such as district assessments, they repurposed these artifacts and constructed alternative strengths-based ways of seeing and making sense of the mathematics classroom. Seeing the classroom with this co-constructed inclusive and empathetic vision supported teachers to imagine the classroom from the perspective of their students and to value and connect with students’ experiences as mathematical learners. Findings suggest that beginning teachers can take up an ambitious equity-oriented learning agenda when they are part of a learning community that is saturated with new tools and artifacts and that is responsive to the needs and tensions that arise in their daily activity. This dissertation has implications for the design and study of teacher learning as a mediated process afforded and constrained by the complex learning ecologies teachers work within.

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