Project 2061: Classroom Video Cameras
Can Be Crucial In Teacher Training
Jo Ellen Roseman
Director of Project 2061
At the first sight of the video camera, the classroom began buzzing
with excitement. The students, who had cut their teeth on reality
TV, wondered if they’d see themselves on television.
But the videotapes weren’t bound for MTV. Instead, they were
headed to teacher-training classrooms and research sites as part of
a five-year study by Project
2061, the AAAS mathematics and science education reform initiative.
Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, Project 2061 is named for the
next year that Halley’s comet will pass by Earth. The forward-thinking
initiative seeks to prepare K-12 educators and students for a time
of technological and scientific advances. And judging by Project 2061’s
most recent study, it is doing just that.
The study, “Improving Mathematics Teacher Practice and Student
Learning through Professional Development,” involves nine school
districts and 80 middle-school math teachers in Delaware and Texas.
Researchers are still analyzing the data, but several participants
have already come to some eye-opening conclusions. “It was extremely
enlightening,” said Laura Conner, a sixth-grade math teacher
in Middletown, Del., who participated in the study.
Mathematical ideas take top-billing in all aspects of this study,
as researchers work with teachers to examine the ways in which they
try to help student learn those ideas. By watching videotapes, teachers
recognized that they’d missed opportunities to question students,
or that their questions were more about getting the task done than
about developing understanding of important mathematics ideas.
They now focus on asking specific questions that respond to evidence
of what their students are thinking about the mathematics, factor
in common difficulties students may have, and move students toward
a better understanding of the mathematics.
Viewing student responses on video also prompted teachers to pay
closer attention to students’ problem-solving strategies. “There
isn’t just one way to strategize and find the answer to a problem,”
Conner explained. “There is an efficient way, but my most efficient
way may not be the same as yours.” For the researchers, the
underlying question is this: Can solving the problem lead to a deeper
understanding of the mathematics?
That approach might puzzle baby boomers, who were taught that there’s
just one way to tackle math. Focusing on the mathematical ideas, teachers
take into account and build on a variety of different strategies that
students might use to solve a problem.
To promote mathematics, science and technology literacy and reform,
AAAS founded Project 2061 in 1985. In 1989, Project 2061 released
for All Americans,” which recommended the math and science
skills that students should master before graduating high school.
Project 2061 later established learning goals, known as benchmarks,
for specific grades. Educators nationwide now use the benchmarks to
In 2000, Project 2061 analyzed 13 middle-grades math textbooks. “As
we shared the information, people said, ‘That’s great,
but what happens when the texts are in the teachers’ hands?’”
said Kathleen Morris, senior program associate for Project 2061.
The question led to the current study, which was funded by the Interagency
Education Research Initiative, a joint program of the U.S. National
Science Foundation, the Department of Education and the National Institute
of Child Health and Human Development.
To implement the study, Project 2061 partnered with the University
of Delaware and Texas A&M University, both of which reside in
states with established mathematics standards.
Delaware teacher Karen Madden in the classroom.
The study focused on four school districts in Delaware and five in
Texas. Participating teachers used four of the 13 textbooks evaluated
in Project 2061’s previous study. Two were highly rated, one
was average and the last received a low rating.
Because the study was designed to look at the way in which key mathematics
ideas are taught, researchers selected one benchmark from each of
three areas: numbers, algebra and data.
Number lessons teach students to understand relationships among fractions,
decimals, and percents; algebra lessons demonstrate the role of equations
in showing how changing one quantity affects another; data lessons
teach students about statistical information, including averages,
spreads and medians. In all three areas, students learn to apply their
knowledge to solving real world problems.
Before the first academic year began, teachers attended a two-day
class to review the benchmarks and discuss the lessons that align
with them. Then the videotaping started.
“At first it was a little nerve-wracking,” said Kathleen
Wilson, an eighth-grade math teacher in Middletown, Del. “But
you get used to it.” The students, too, soon found the experience
“old hat,” Conner said.
In Delaware, University of Delaware graduate students in mathematics
and drama students handled the videotaping, said Jon Manon, co-principal
investigator at the site and an assistant professor in UD’s
school of education.
Investigators — armed with a list of criteria for effective
teaching — viewed the videotapes to determine topics for the
professional development classes, which were held in summer. “We
noticed there were some common problems,” said Jo Ellen Roseman,
principal investigator for Project 2061.
For one, teachers weren’t adequately utilizing “representations,”
including pie charts and number lines. Roseman recalled the video
of a teacher who asked a child for the decimal equivalent of 1/2.
When the student remained silent, the teacher followed with another
abstract question rather than making use of a representation provided
in the textbook to spur the student’s thinking process.
In another instance, a student attempted to represent the equivalence
of 4/7 and 8/14. At the board, she opted for a rectangle representation
to show that shading 4 out of 7 parts of a rectangle had the same
area shaded as 8 out of 14 parts of a similar rectangle. When her
second rectangle couldn’t accommodate 14 parts (because she
had made the size of each part too big), she extended the rectangle,
making the two rectangles unequal.
“It misses the point of the representation,” Roseman
noted, which was to show that the fractions were equivalent because
they could be represented by the same areas of similar rectangles.
Because the class bell rang, the teacher missed an opportunity to
determine whether students realized that the comparison was invalid
and why. “We decided to use this excerpt during the professional
development to engage teachers in considering what the teacher could
have done to use the ‘mistake’ to focus students’
thinking on the concept of equivalence,” Roseman said.
Although teachers were asking the students plenty of questions, the
teachers stopped once they heard a correct answer, rather than pressing
students to explain their answers. Sixth-grade teacher Fred Ernst’s
interactions with students averaged less than a minute. “I was
shocked,” said Ernst, who retired this year from teaching public
school in Camden, Del. He currently teaches a college class to education
majors at Delaware State University.
Ernst, who came from what he called a “traditional background,”
said he’d long made a point of incorporating Socratic questions
and asking for student input. “I have been doing that, but not
as much as I thought. I looked over videotapes from year one and year
two and thought, ‘Oh, my.’”
Like Ernst, the other teachers watched their tapes to mark the moments
that fit the investigators’ criteria for training topics.
Conner was astounded at what she saw in her sixth-grade class. “When
you watch the entire class unfold, you can see and hear things that
you don’t see when it’s happening,” she said.
Consider the class during which students seemed lost during a lesson
on fractions. “What do we need to do to get them to solidify
that idea?” Conner mused. Even highly rated textbooks don’t
help teachers address student who get stuck, Roseman said.
Like Conner, another teacher had students who grew confused at one
point. In a video clip, shown to colleagues in a professional development
class, the teacher returned to a number line that had done the trick
in the past. “He realized it was a powerful representation for
them,” Roseman said.
Much of the development training was spent watching such videos clips.
The experience was always constructive, never critical, Manon said.
Conner agreed. “It was about the mathematics,” she said.
The professional development classes impacted the math lessons, Wilson
said. “It was a full-blown lesson analysis, and we changed the
lesson for the better.”
Since researchers filmed the same lessons over multiple years, they
could chart the effect of the discussions and the videotape-viewing.
By the third year, for instance, Ernest had expanded student interactions
from an average of one minute to about three minutes each and expected
students to explain their answers. “Slowly but surely, the tapes
showed that I did that,” he said.
To determine how the teacher training affected student learning,
investigators measured student outcomes with pre- and post-tests for
each benchmark. “If there are great leaps in understanding from
pre- and post-tests, we would expect to see improvements in the instruction,”
Morris said. Investigators are seeking correlations between student
test scores and teacher videos.
After amassing the data, Manon was impressed at the video camera’s
potential in the classroom. “It captures the clarity of student
thinking and promotes teacher reflection,” he said.
Like Wilson, many teachers would do it all again. “If it has
all the right intentions — to improve teaching and learning
— I wouldn’t mind it at all,” Wilson concluded.
28 December 2005