College of Science & Engineering

Colloquium: Purington

Thursday, February 20, 2020 - 4:00pm
BH 225


Specialized Math Content Knowledge of Elementary Teachers

Stephanie Purington, University of Massachusetts, Amherst 

Mathematical standards for students have increased with the development of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and its accompanying high stakes testing. Teachers need strong conceptual knowledge of the mathematics they teach in order to give students the opportunity to learn that math deeply. Using the framework of specialized content knowledge (SCK), which is the knowledge required to teach math that extends beyond the knowledge to do math, this study examines the current level of SCK held by practicing elementary teachers.

Analysis of teacher interviews indicates that the current teachers studied have strong specialized content knowledge in areas of whole number calculation, such as subtraction with regrouping and multi-digit multiplication. In those topics they are able to create representations and justify the standard algorithms. In the areas of division with fractions and area, perimeter, and proof, however, specialized content knowledge was much lower, and many of the teachers struggled to create representations or explain the mathematics contained in the algorithms. This indicates a need for teacher education and professional development that extends beyond whole number operations and focuses on conceptual understanding of these challenging topics.