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Negotiating the essential tension of teacher communities in a statewide math teachers' circle



Math Teachers' Circles (MTCs) bring math teachers and university mathematicians together to engage in collaborative mathematical activity. Currently there are over 110 MTCs across 40 states. A key claim is that MTCs are "communities of practice." However, to date there has been no research to substantiate this claim. In this paper, we explore the ways in which participants in an MTC negotiate aspects of community formation.
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... Despite an explicit invitation to set aside classroom concerns, MTC participants often initiate and spend a non-trivial portion of time engaging in professional talk that indexes teaching and schooling as they work together on math problems (Peck et al., 2017). This raised questions for us about the work such talk accomplishes in the micro-level negotiation of the essential tension and its resulting implications for the teachers' joint production of identity and community. ...
Teachers construct professional identities within community as they converse about their work and negotiate what it means to be a teacher. Grossman, Wineburg, and Woolworth (2001) suggest that such negotiation must account for an essential tension between focusing on pedagogical versus disciplinary concerns. How teachers navigate this tension and what this means for their joint production of identity and community is unclear. This gap in the literature became evident in our work with Math Teachers’ Circles (MTC), where we observed K-12 math teachers indexing instructional experiences and concerns despite the program’s explicit invitation to set teaching aside and do math problems together for pleasure. Drawing upon a community of practice framework and positioning theory, we consider the work this professional talk accomplished within MTC gatherings. We show how the teachers positioned themselves and established their community, thereby producing hybrid identities and MTCs as a kind of hybrid community.
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While teacher content knowledge is crucially important to the improvement of teaching and learning, attention to its development and study has been uneven. Historically, researchers have focused on many aspects of teaching, but more often than not scant attention has been given to how teachers need to understand the subjects they teach. Further, when researchers, educators and policy makers have turned attention to teacher subject matter knowledge the assumption has often been that advanced study in the subject is what matters. Debates have focused on how much preparation teachers need in the content strands rather than on what type of content they need to learn. In the mid-1980s, a major breakthrough initiated a new wave of interest in the conceptualization of teacher content knowledge. In his 1985 AERA presidential address, Lee Shulman identified a special domain of teacher knowledge, which he referred to as pedagogical content knowledge. He distinguished between content as it is studied and learned in disciplinary settings and the "special amalgam of content and pedagogy" needed for teaching the subject. These ideas had a major impact on the research community, immediately focusing attention on the foundational importance of content knowledge in teaching and on pedagogical content knowledge in particular. This paper provides a brief overview of research on content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge, describes how we have approached the problem, and reports on our efforts to define the domain of mathematical knowledge for teaching and to refine its sub- domains.
By meeting regularly, a group of teachers from different schools promote a culture of problem solving and engagement.