CID Summer 2005 Convening: Developing Effective Teachers

Topic 3: Able to Teach

Michigan State University - Mathematics Education

This Snapshot describes how the doctoral programs at Michigan State University help new mathematics educators develop content knowledge together with an ability to perform effectively in the classroom.

A teacher's understanding must encompass both the subject matter and "pedagogical content knowledge," a repertoire of teaching strategies and an understanding of how learning can be stimulated and assessed appropriate to the subject matter and setting. At Michigan State University we prepare graduate students for a variety of careers in mathematics education that may entail teaching mathematics methods courses for teachers, mathematics education research courses, mathematics content courses, or (most often) some of each kind of course. In this Snapshot, we describe the particular context in which we are preparing graduate students and the professional development opportunities available to them.

Mathematics Education @ MSU website
Explore this website for information about our graduate and undergraduate programs, faculty research interests, current projects, and activities happening in the local mathematics education community.

Our context

Mathematics Education degrees and faculty exist in three departments across two colleges:

  • Mathematics (College of Natural Science)
  • Teacher Education (College of Education)
  • Educational Psychology (College of Education)
  • Mathematics Education is NOT a department at MSU, but we function as a Faculty Group. Students with interests in mathematics education may pursue graduate degrees (with different emphases) in any one of the three departments listed above.

    We are in the process of creating a new, cross-college graduate program in mathematics education that we anticipate will be the future home for most students who currently enroll in one of the three existing programs.

    New graduate program summary
    Click the above link to download a description of the rationale, background, and requirements of the new doctoral program in mathematics education.

    Professional development opportunities

    The kind of professional development for teaching that graduate students participate in is determined by which department they are employed by (which may or may not be the same as the one in which they are enrolled as a graduate student).

    For graduate students who are teaching in the Teacher Education Department's Teacher Preparation Program:

  • half-day pre-semester orientation session
  • half-day "opening institute" for Teacher Preparation Program
  • required year-long course (TE 994)
  • Other opportunities:

  • apprenticeship in Teacher Preparation courses
  • course on U.S. schooling for international graduate students
  • For graduate students who are teaching in the Department of Mathematics:

  • half-day pre-semester orientation session for all graduate students in the department
  • periodic meetings with course supervisor during semester
  • optional 5-week modules or semester-long course (SME 879)
  • Other opportunities:

  • tutoring
  • grading

  • Resources

    The Michigan State University community provides several resources to support graduate students' and faculty members' development as teachers. Some of these resources are specificially tailored to the needs of teachers in mathematics and science (Certificate in Teaching College Science & Mathematics; Center for Intergration of Research, Teaching, and Learning), while others support teaching in all subject areas (Teaching Assistant Program; Office of Faculty and Organizational Development).

    Follow the links below to explore the resources provided by each program.

    Teaching Assistant Program
    Services offered by the TA program all MSU TAs.

    Certificate in Teaching of College Science & Mathematics
    Voluntary comprehensive program to prepare graduate students in the College of Natural Science for careers in post-secondary education while enhancing the quality of their teaching at MSU.

    Mathematics Teaching Assistant Professional Development website
    This website contains information about (and resources for) teaching assistant preparation and professional development. It also contains information about educational research on TAs. It is a "wiki" website (anyone can contribute content).

    Center for Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL)
    Promotes the development of a national faculty in STEM fields committed to effective teaching for diverse students.

    Office of Faculty and Organizational Development
    Supports MSU faculty and staff with Faculty Development and Organizational/Leadership Development programs.

    Student backgrounds and teaching responsibilities

    We prepare students with a variety of backgrounds to teach a variety of courses in mathematics and mathematics education:


  • No teaching experience
  • K-12 mathematics teaching experience
  • K-12 teacher educator experience
  • Undergraduate mathematics teaching experience
  • Courses students/graduates may teach:

  • K-12 teacher education courses (methods)
  • Mathematics content courses for K-12 teachers
  • Undergraduate mathematics courses (for majors and non-majors)
  • Mathematics education courses (research, curriculum, policy)

  • TE 994: Practicum on Teaching and Teacher Education (Mathematics section)

    Required of all graduate students who hold teaching assistantships in the Teacher Education Department's Teacher Preparation program.

    Course goals

  • Students receive support as they make the transition from mathematics teacher to mathematics teacher educator and researcher;
  • Students examine perspectives on what teachers need to know and be able to do to teach mathematics in elementary and secondary schools.
  • Students experiment with a variety of pedagogical approaches and resources in mathematics teacher education.
  • Students become familiar with the variety of contexts for teaching and learning in the teacher preparation program.
  • Students consider questions, approaches, and methods of research in mathematics teacher education.
  • Students design and conduct research in the context of their teaching.
  • Syllabus

    Research on this course
    Two faculty members who developed and taught this course have been studying how the course shapes graduate students' development as teacher educators. Click the above link to download a paper reporting on this research.

    Goals for students

    By the time students complete their Ph.D., they should have developed knowledge, skills, and dispositions appropriate for teaching mathematics education and mathematics content courses. Typically, students will have focused on one area of teaching more extensively than the other, but students are expected to developed familiarity with teaching in their secondary area as well (either by taking one of the courses described above or by teaching a course).

    How do we know?

    In all cases, there is a faculty member who is directly responsible for supervising graduate students as they teach. The details differ by department, but there are regular (typically bi-weekly) meetings of the faculty supervisor and graduate students who are teaching the same course or are teaching in the same part of the Teacher Preparation Program. These meetings are one way that faculty assess graduate students' teaching practices and development as teachers. Assessment in this context is possible because the meetings entail discussion of particular course activities/content and what happened during specific classes. These discussions provide faculty with access to how graduate students are thinking about their teaching, student learning, and the factors they consider when making instructional decisions.

    Formal evaluation of students differs in the two departments, but both entail observations by a faculty member. In the Teacher Preparation Program, the observation is followed by a consultation and a written report is completed that is signed by both the faculty observer and the student. The report includes the faculty member's assessment of whether the students' teaching is adequate or in need of improvement. If it needs improvement, a specific professional development plan must be provided, including the department or campus resources that will be provided to the student.

    In the Dept. of Mathematics, a shorter report is completed, without a required consultation. The report includes the faculty member's assessment of the student's level of competency along several dimensions (clarity of spoken and written presentation, mathematical accuracy, classroom atmosphere).

    Overall progress and breadth/depth of experience is typically discussed during students' committee meetings (which begin with a "guidance committee" that is formed during a student's second year). These meetings are held at least annually and at these meetings faculty members and the student discuss the student's career goals and what set of teaching experiences will best prepare the student to pursue those goals. Since students typically arrive at graduate students with experience teaching mathematics, gaining experience teaching mathematics education courses is usually a top priority. In some cases, however, students are not familiar with K-12 mathematics teaching and need to gain such experience so they can participate in aspects of teacher preparation. The committee makes recommendations about the balance of teaching- and research-oriented assistantships the students should pursue for the coming year as well as the particular kind of teaching opportunities the student should apply for.

    A note about department cultural differences

    The culture related to teaching in the College of Education and the Department of Mathematics differ in substantial ways. These differences are evident in:

  • how students are hired into teaching positions (by faculty in Teacher Education; by Graduate Director in Mathematics);
  • how they are prepared and supported while they teach (required year-long course in Teacher Education; required orientation in Mathematics);
  • how they are evaluated (by Teacher Preparation Program faculty/administrator in Teacher Education; by faculty member who is course supervisor in Mathematics);
  • how ability to teach is valued for purposes of future employment (substantial component of application/interview process in education (teach demonstration class, give pedagogical colloquium, etc.); smaller role in the hiring process in mathematics (possibly require philosophy of teaching statements as part of application));
  • the role that teaching and scholarship of teaching is likely to play in their careers as faculty (a substantial focus in education for annual reviews, tenure, and promotion evaluations with an expectation for scholarship based in one's teaching; less emphasis in mathematics, but expectations for participation in K-12 teacher preparation and/or outreach)

  • SME 879: Teaching College Mathematics

    Designed for graduate students who are teaching or intend to teach mathematics content courses.

    Course goals

  • Students develop their pedagogical content knowledge for key topics in undergraduate mathematics;
  • Students acquire knowledge of student thinking through readings and inquiry into their own students' thinking;
  • Students receive guidance and support to teach their current classes as well and to prepare them for a variety of issues that may arise in their future teaching positions.
  • Students receive feedback about their teaching;
  • Students observe a variety of types of instruction;
  • Students create items appropriate for a "teaching portfolio;"
  • Students may use this course to fulfill one of the requirements for the College of Natural Science's "Certification in College Teaching."
  • Syllabus

    Unanswered questions

    Currently, we are not (explicitly) preparing graduates for the other kinds of teaching they will do if they assume roles as mathematics education faculty members. These kinds of teaching include, for example, teaching undergraduate and/or graduate courses in mathematics education, courses in research methods, policy, and curriculum design. In education, it is assumed that graduate students will acquire skills to teach these kinds of course and little or no mentor or professional development is provided to new faculty in this area. How might we incorporate this kind of preparation into our program, given that very few graduate students will have the opportunity to teach such courses during their time in the program?

    We are also not preparing our students for other teaching-related responsibilities such as being an advisor, serving on state/national teaching standards committees, providing other kinds of teaching consulting services. Are these kinds of activities the sort that must be learned "on the job" or are their experiences we could create for our students to help prepare them?

    Contact information

    Natasha Speer

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