Date of Award

Fall 2010

Project Type


Program or Major

Mathematics Education

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Karen Graham


Many mathematics teacher professional development programs have either incorporated or been organized around a goal of providing "research-like" (Cuoco, 2001) experiences. That is, teachers participate in a project that somehow simulates the mathematics research process. Though some research studies have shown positive outcomes from such programs, researchers have cautioned against assuming universally positive benefits without sufficient evidence (Proulx and Bednarz, 2001). Teacher conceptions of student learning play an important role in lesson development and preparation for classroom work (Penso & Shoham, 2003). Similarities between the processes of mathematics research and student learning (Dreyfus, 1991) beg the question of whether experience with one (mathematics research) might impact the way one thinks about the other (student learning). The current study investigates the impact of one "research-like" professional development program on teachers' conceptions of student learning.

This study used belief surveys combined with five case studies. The case studies were based on a series of task-based interviews utilizing lesson planning tasks that employed Simon's (1995) notion of a hypothetical learning trajectory. The results indicate that teachers' primary beliefs remained consistent and impacted the ways in which they interpreted their experiences, but that some peripheral beliefs changed. General themes included an increased emphasis on exploring multiple problems in order to motivate conjectures or generalizations and increased empathy toward students learning unfamiliar content. Individual teachers exhibited some idiosyncratic changes, as well. For each individual, changes in peripheral beliefs were consistent with those aspects of the teacher's own learning experiences that he or she found to be most meaningful. Indeed, the results indicate that experience learning unfamiliar mathematics content was the aspect of the program that most powerfully impacted the participants. Teachers drew parallels between mathematics research and student learning, but only as they drew parallels between their own experience, which they understood to be "research-like", and that of their students. The implications of these results and the directions they suggest for future research are also explored.