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Adding + It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics
Understanding of Core Knowledge
It is not sufficient that teachers possess the kinds of core knowledge delineated in the previous section. One of the defining features of conceptual understanding is that knowledge must be connected so that it can be used intelligently. Teachers need to make connections within and among their knowledge of mathematics, students, and pedagogy.
The kinds of knowledge that make a difference in teaching practice and in students’ learning are an elaborated, integrated knowledge of mathematics, a knowledge of how students’ mathematical understanding develops, and a repertoire of pedagogical practices that take into account the mathematics being taught and how students learn it. The implications for teacher preparation and professional development are that teachers need to acquire these forms of knowledge in ways that forge connections between them. For teachers who have already achieved some mathematical proficiency, separate courses or professional development programs that focus exclusively on mathematics, on the psychology of learning, or on methods of teaching provide limited opportunities to make these connections. Unfortunately, most university teacher preparation programs offer separate courses in mathematics, psychology, and methods of teaching that are taught in different departments. The difficulty of integrating such courses is compounded when they are located in different administrative units.
The professional development programs we discuss later in this chapter all situate their portrayals of mathematics and children’s thinking in contexts directly relevant to the problems teachers face daily in teaching mathematics.28 This grounding in reality allows knowledge of mathematics and knowledge of students to be connected in ways that make a difference for instruction and for learning. It is not enough, however, for mathematical knowledge and knowledge of students to be connected; both need to be connected to classroom practice. Teachers may know mathematics, and they may know their students and how they learn. But they also have to know how to use both kinds of knowledge effectively in the context of their work if they are to help their students develop mathematical proficiency.
Similarly, many inservice workshops, presentations at professional meetings, publications for teachers, and other opportunities for teacher learning focus almost exclusively on activities or methods of teaching and seldom attempt to help teachers develop their own conceptual understanding of the underlying mathematical ideas, what students understand about those ideas, or how they learn them. Alternative forms of teacher education and professional development that attempt to teach mathematical content, psychology