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Thought Experiments in Mathematics Teaching III

“Developing Rich Media-based Materials for Practice-based Teacher Education” (also known as ThEMaT III) was funded by NSF in 2013 and closed in 2020 (NSF Grant DRL–1316241). The project explored how web-based resources and tools, such as those provided by the LessonSketch platform, could support the work of teacher educators designing materials for practice based teacher education. The research focused on understanding how online, rich-media resources can instrument the work of teacher educators and their students, as well as evaluating how LessonSketch functionalities respond to the needs of teacher educators and their students. A main thrust of the project was related to materials development: a group of LessonSketch Research and Development Fellows were recruited to create and disseminate materials through a network of inquiry groups. The project was also concerned with examining how the technological mediation affects the work of teacher educators and their inquiry groups planning and enacting teacher education lessons that use the materials developed.

Project Fellows

Wendy Rose Aaron · Emina Alibegovic · Joel Amidon · Kristen Bieda · Orly Buchbinder · Lawrence Clark · Sandra Crespo · Karl W. Kosko · Woong Lim · Janet Walkoe · Rob Wieman · Bill Zahner

The project was premised on the notion that recent technological developments have made it feasible to represent classroom work in new ways. In addition to watching recorded videos of classroom interactions or reading written cases, teacher educators and teachers can now watch animations and image sequences, realized with cartoon characters, and made to depict activities that have or could have happened in a mathematics classroom. Furthermore, teacher educators and teachers can react to such animations or image sequences by making their own depictions of alternative moves by students or teachers in classroom interaction. And all of that can take place in an online, cloud-based environment that also supports discussion fora and the kinds of capabilities associated with learning management systems. Such technologies offer important affordances to teacher educators seeking to provide candidates with course-based experiences that emphasize the development of practice-based skills.

This joint project of the University of Maryland Center for Mathematics Education and the University of Michigan gathered 12 mathematics educators, called LessonSketch Research and Development Fellows, across various teacher preparation institutions in the U.S. Fellows included Wendy Aaron (Oregon State University), Emina Alibegovic (then at the University of Utah), Joel Amidon (University of Mississippi), Kristen Bieda (Michigan State University), Orly Buchbinder (University of New Hampshire), Lawrence Clark (University of Maryland), Sandra Crespo (Michigan State University), Karl Kosko (Kent State University), Woong Lim (University of New Mexico), Janet Walkoe (University of Maryland), Rob Wieman (Rowan University), and Bill Zahner (San Diego State University). These Fellows were charged with the development of online practice-based modules for use in different courses within mathematics teacher preparation programs. Once initial drafts of materials were developed, the Fellows each gathered inquiry groups, typically composed of 3 – 4 other mathematics educators serving at distinct institutions, to help support the further development and field testing of modules. The project team engaged with the Inquiry Groups in three distinct ways. First, the team provided inquiry groups with support, both conceptual and technical, for the design of their materials. Second, using the framework of instrumental genesis, the project team documented the ways that the Fellows and their Inquiry Groups used the LessonSketch tools in conjunction with other tools. This documentation included observing the ways in which various groups used the tools, how those uses changed overtime, and challenges they faced when engaged in their work. It also included administering surveys and conducting interviews and focus groups with both Fellows and their inquiry group members. Finally, based on what had been learned from these experiences of providing support and documenting the work of the groups, the project team engaged in rounds of design-based research—making incremental changes to the LessonSketch platform and releasing those updates for piloting by various inquiry groups that had need for such updates.

As part of our own contribution to the use of rich media in teacher development, we conceived of the StoryCircles process of teacher collaboration, which we have continued to develop in the context of other funded projects. The investigation of how teacher educators used the LessonSketch tools led to a reconceptualization and revision of two of the original LessonSketch tools: Depict (an online storyboarding tool for representing classroom scenarios) and Annotate (an online tool for annotating rich-media, such as video). Moving away from the Flash framework, two new standalone tools were coded in javascript to support similar work but with enhanced features: Lesson Depict and Anotemos (ah-noh-ta-mos). An important enhancement in these tools is that they are collaborative: Users may work synchronously on the same file. Through LTI integration they are also integrated with the Canvas framework where we have begun to rebuild the capabilities of LessonSketch but relying on tools supported by a wide array of developers. While the integrated LessonSketch platform will be decommissioned at the end of 2020, we are reconceptualizing LessonSketch to be not a piece of software but rather a way of working. LessonSketch, as a way of working, is anchored in Canvas and provides access to media, resources, and tools to support teacher development that uses representations of practice and research that uses scenario-based assessments.

In addition to the instrumentation work, the project produced 15 new LessonSketch modules, field-tested with ~3000 preservice teacher candidates across 42 institutions. Many of the fellows are especially interested in having an impact on how prospective teachers are prepared to teach the full range of students in the United States. Examples of some of the relevant foci of the work of the fellows include:

  • Teachers’ awareness of students’ mathematical dispositions including students’ perceptions of: their mathematical ability, the importance of mathematics, and the nature of the mathematical task at hand,
  • Teachers’ awareness of students’ attributions of success and failure in mathematical contexts,
  • Teachers’ sensitivity to issues of equity & diversity and their impact in the mathematics classroom.


To access the materials developed by the LessonSketch Research and Development Fellows, please consult the links below

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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-1316241. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.