An investigation of mathematics teachers' beliefs and practices following a professional development intervention based on constructivist principles
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The purpose of this study was to investigate the beliefs and related classroom practices of a selected group of in-service teachers within the context of a mathematics professional development intervention for primary school teachers in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. A cohort of 34 teachers drawn from urban and rural schools in the Eastern Cape engaged in an accredited professional development intervention offered by the Rhodes University Mathematics Education Project (RUMEP). The 34 teachers were referred to as key teachers as they were expected to stimulate mathematics activities with fellow teachers in their school and in a cluster of nearby schools. The professional development intervention took place in a context of transition and transformation in education in South Africa. Curriculum transformation has been inspired by the production of a national policy document known as Curriculum 2005. This document rests on the theoretical assumptions of a learner-centred, outcomes-based approach within a constructivist framework. The professional development experiences of the RUMEP intervention were based on a strongly constructivist rationale recognising the need for key teachers to implement learner-centred, outcomes-based approaches in their classrooms. Although the study included both qualitative and quantitative data gathering techniques the research paradigm was mainly interpretive. From the group of 34 key teachers, a purposive sample of three cases was selected for classroom observation. Two observation periods of six months each made up the First Phase and Second Phase classroom visits, interspersed with intensive professional development contact sessions.During the First Phase observations, 1 as the participant observer, visited the classrooms of Lulama, Makana and Ruth (pseudonyms), the three case study teachers. In the Second Phase period, a colleague and 1 video recorded the classroom practices of all three teachers. The videotapes were analysed by a consultant panel of observers to identify emergent themes using Yager's (1991) Constructivist Learning Model to guide the analysis process. The panel identified a number of dominant themes and these meta-themes have possible implications for a teaching and learning approach that is based on learner-centred, constructivist strategies as advocated in the Curriculum 2005 document. The meta-themes included such challenging issues as a constructivist learning environment, learner-centredness, learner participation, collaboration, reflection, teacher content knowledge, topic progression, and power relations. The findings of the study also suggested that the case study teachers' beliefs did influence their classroom practices. A significant outcome was that teachers in the field were unlikely to sustain outcomes- based, constructivist approaches without regular on-site support. Arising out of this study, 1 was able to isolate ten features that should usefully be incorporated into other professional development interventions in the Eastern Cape, and one of these features was the support provided to teachers in the classroom.Of further significance was the realisation that future interventions need to focus on the conceptual development of teachers' mathematics content knowledge and the systematic planning of related activities when preparing the pace and a particular mathematics topic using the National Curriculum Statement (2001) as a guide. Quantitative data from the full cohort of 34 key teachers was collected via a mathematics Beliefs Scale, authentic assessment tests (Insight Tasks), and a School Level Environment Questionnaire (SLEQ). The results on the Belief Scale indicated significant differences teachers' beliefs on two out of the' c subscales. These differences were in the teaching and learning of mathematics. There was no significant difference on the sequencing topic subscale. The key teachers completed the Insight Tasks pre an intervention to measure gains in their content and pedagogic (professional) knowledge. The Insight Task results indicated that the key teachers made clear progress in their professional development. Quantitative data was also gathered from six mathematics teachers in a selected urban school. The School Level Environment Questionnaire instrument was administered to the six teachers. The aim was to profile the teachers' pedagogic needs within a context of curriculum transformation. The profile raised two items for discussion: Staff Freedom and Resource Adequacy. It would appear that the teachers in this particular school wanted more guidance in planning outcomes-based mathematics topics, and they highlighted the need for classroom- based resources if they were to adequately implement such a curriculum.
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