What We Know About Deepening Teachers' Content Knowledge: Engaging Teachers with Challenging Mathematics and Science to Deepen their Content Knowledge
Professional learning opportunities for teachers of mathematics and science have increasingly focused on teachers' content knowledge. Learning opportunities aimed at deepening teachers' content knowledge often include a primary strategy of engaging teachers with challenging mathematics or science content—for example, working problems, conducting investigations, presenting results, and discussing concepts. Advice from experienced practitioners offers guidance for efforts to engage teachers with challenging mathematics and science content as a strategy for deepening their content knowledge. Insights provided by a group of expert practitioners with diverse backgrounds and experiences in working with teachers included the following ideas:
- Embrace rigor—Teachers generally respond positively to opportunities to delve into mathematics/science content.
- One size doesn't fit all—Plan for the likelihood that teachers with different course backgrounds in mathematics/science will have very different content-related needs.
- Bridge the gap—Teachers with substantial gaps in their mathematics/science content knowledge need the same kind and depth of content coverage as is provided in content-focused graduate courses.
- Learning is learning—Apply what is known about how people learn to experiences for teachers to deepen their content knowledge.
- Connect the dots—It is often helpful to show teachers how the content they are encountering relates to the content they will be teaching to students.
Teacher Content Knowledge Matters
Empirical evidence demonstrates that teachers' mathematics/science content knowledge makes a difference in their instructional practice and their students' achievement. Consistent findings across studies include:
- Teachers' mathematics/science content knowledge influences their professional practice.
- Teachers' mathematics/science content knowledge is related to their students' learning.
Research on Engaging Teachers with Challenging Mathematics and Science Content
Fourteen research studies of professional development programs that engaged teachers with challenging mathematics content, as one of several strategies, were identified in a search of the published literature (Basile et al., 2006; Basista & Mathews, 2002; Clark & Schorr, 2000; Cochran, Mayer, & Mullins, 2007; Dole, Clark, Wright, Hilton, & Roche, 2008; Garner-Gilchrist, 1993; Geer, 2001; Hughes & Gilbert, 2007; Santagata, 2009; Sowder, Phillip, Armstrong, & Schappelle, 1998; Strom, 2006; Swafford, Jones, & Thornton, 1997; Swafford, Jones, Thornton, Stump, & Miller, 1999; Vale & McAndrew, 2008; Weaver & Dick, 2009). All but one (Santagata, 2009) provided evidence of positive effects on teachers' mathematics content knowledge. These studies were concentrated in the middle grades, although teacher participants ranged from Kindergarten to grade 12. Across the studies, topics in number and operations, algebra, geometry, measurement, and data/probability/statistics were addressed. Although no studies investigated the unique contribution of engaging teachers with challenging mathematics content, consistent positive results across the programs support claims regarding its effectiveness in deepening teachers' mathematics content knowledge.Learn more about research on engaging teachers with challenging mathematics content
The literature search surfaced 16 research studies of professional development programs that engaged teachers with challenging science content. Each intervention included several strategies, and none was designed to measure the unique influence of engaging teachers with challenging science content. Still, each one reported some evidence that teachers' science content knowledge increased (Alonzo, 2002; Atwood, Christopher, & McNall, 2005; Basile et al., 2006; Basista & Mathews, 2002; Dole et al., 2008; Freeman, Pounders, & Teddlie,1994; Hanley, 2006; Lee, Lewis, Adamson, Maerten-Rivera, & Secada, 2008; Nehm & Schonfeld, 2007; Niaz, 2008; Niaz, 2009; Puttick & Rosebery, 1998; Radford, 1998; Sherman, Byers & Rapp, 2008; Summers & Kruger, 1994; Summers, Kruger, Mant, & Childs, 1998; Williamson & Jose, 2008). Although teacher participants in the studies ranged from Kindergarten to grade 12, most of the studies focused on elementary grades teachers. Further, although earth, life, and physical science were represented, physical science was the most frequently studied content area.Learn more about research on engaging teachers with challenging science content