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School of Education “STAR” Student’s Research Could Impact Future Teacher Professional Development


October 5, 2017

For most freshmen, the first year of college entails getting settled into dorm life, finding out where their classes are, making new friends, and starting courses in their various fields of study. Not many students spend their first year at Drexel working alongside faculty on a research study that could impact the future of professional development for math teachers. Then again, not many students are Alex Coleman.

Alex, now a sophomore majoring in elementary education with a focus on middle level math and english, applied and was accepted into the STAR Scholars Program. The program, overseen by Drexel’s Office of Undergraduate Research, is open to all first-year students. STAR Scholars commit to working full-time over the summer with faculty on research and other projects. The program culminated on August 31st, where Alex and other STAR Scholars presented posters on their research. For Alex, she knew she wanted to do research centered around math, before she ever set foot on campus. “In high school, in my senior year, I elected to do an independent study and got to create my own unit and teach Algebra 1. This got me interested in how students were learning mathematics.”

Alex’s advisor, David Appleton, helped to connect her with Dr. Valerie Klein, an assistant professor in the School of Education who has a strong background in how teachers assess student performance in mathematics. The pair worked side-by-side to examine how math teachers provide feedback to students. They looked closely at what teacher’s notice and wonder about their students’ work, and how they deliver their thoughts to students.

For instance, let’s say a teacher teaches a lesson on fractions, then gives her class homework or a quiz related to the lesson. Many teachers may simply mark each question right or wrong, put a grade at the top of the page, and move on to the next student. Alex wants teachers to look deeper. Her research seeks to explore what teachers notice in how their students solve problems, and how they can identify and correct a missed step that led to a wrong answer.

Alex examined data collected from surveys completed by 30 teachers. The surveys asked teachers three important questions about a student’s work 1) what did they notice about the work, 2) what do they wonder about the student’s work, and 3) what feedback would they give the student. Alex found that most teachers only noticed right or wrong answers and delivered that feedback to the student. Alex believes that more research should be done regarding the professional development of mathematics teachers including ways to get teachers to think more in-depth about student mathematical processes. If that happens, she believes teachers can help improve student performance.

Alex is now observing classes in a Philadelphia public school. She can’t wait to graduate and teach her own classes. She says she loves teaching and would be open to teaching any class she can get in to, but her dream would be to teach 7th or 8th grade math. “That would be really cool to do middle school math, for sure.”

Learn more about the STAR Scholars program.