NSF CAREER — Teaching Mathematics Well in Community Colleges: Understanding the Impact of Reform-Based Instructional Resources

Vilma Mesa

Project Summary

Taking on the calls for reform of mathematics teaching in two-year colleges, this program of research establishes a new perspective from which we may understand what it takes to implement such reforms in community colleges—one that emphasizes teaching and the context in which it happens. The proposed work investigates how suggestions regarding shifts towards student-centered instruction can be actualized in real, diverse, and under-resourced settings. An attention to the teaching of mathematics as it happens in community colleges provides a lens for understanding deeper issues of mathematics teaching in undergraduate settings. The studies proposed support a long-term program of research on the role of resources in developing teaching expertise in undergraduate mathematics.

I propose a research program that seeks to study how standards recommendations regarding a more student-centered approach to mathematics instruction can be actualized so that systematic investigations of its impact on students’ learning can be carried out. I will describe mathematics teaching in one community college, investigate the conditions under which processes for altering planning, classroom interaction, and verification strategies can be implemented, and study the potential impact of those implementations on students’ achievement and success in pre-college, non-developmental, mathematics courses.

I propose a series of interrelated studies, (1) sensitizing studies: to understand the contexts in which mathematics faculty in community colleges teach and (2) probing studies: to test conditions under which teaching strategies designed to influence planning, classroom interaction, and verification practices affect instruction. Quasi-experimental studies will be planned for future work to determine the relationship between changing teaching strategies and students’ learning and success in mathematics.