Interest update

Hello, everyone. Happy Friday.

It happens to be my birthday today, so I hope you’ll forgive this short and rather self-indulgent post. I always consider my birthday to be an opportune time for self-reflection. I’ve taken a little bit of time today to think about how my research interests are evolving.

Throughout last semester, I thought about my interests in terms of three overlapping circles: kids’ use of digital tools to learn math in K-5, teachers’ use of digital curriculum materials, and the intersection of computational thinking and mathematics. I was able to pursue two of those in some depth last semester.

When it comes to CT, through my assistantship, spent a good chunk of time last semester exploring how to help G3-5 teachers integrate computational thinking into their mathematics and science instruction. This work spurred a particular interest in research on abstraction, which in turn led to a manuscript about how my advisor and I think a framework for teaching abstraction developed by some CS educators could be applied to problem solving in K-5 math. We’re continuing to work on that manuscript this semester and hope to submit it within a couple of months! Also, in last semester’s Educational Inquiry class, I developed a research proposal to interview some elementary school teachers about the prospect of teaching mathematics through computational thinking ideas. Happily, that study is also becoming a reality this semester. So, the CT thread remains connected from the last semester to this one, and should do so into the future as well. The main issue I’m negotiating in this work is trying to make sure I keep the mathematics alive as much as I can. I consider myself a mathematics education researcher with an interest in CT rather than a CS education researcher, per se.

I was able to explore teachers’ use of digital curriculum materials last semester mostly through my Proseminar in Mathematics Education course. My culminating project in that class was a paper synthesizing 12(ish) scholarly studies of teachers using various digital curriculum materials ranging from single manipulatives to digital textbooks. The main finding of that paper was that technology is more likely to lead to new kinds teaching in classrooms when teachers are involved in the design of the curriculum resources, or at least invited to play a role. This was unsurprising to me, though admittedly not something I had thought about much before writing the paper. I’ve carried this interest over into this semester through my current Qualitative Methods course. I’m working on designing a study that would explore how teachers’ sense of agency interacts with use of curriculum materials. If this becomes something I pursue in greater depth, I’m hoping such a study and its follow ups could lead to some design principles for the creation of digital curriculum materials.

The third area, kids’ use of digital tools, got the least attention last semester. I find this a little odd, upon reflection, considering that this area is the crux of what brought me to graduate school in the first place. To remedy this, my Ed Psych and Ed Tech Proseminar course project is going to be a critical integration paper based on the last 10 years of research on digital manipulatives. Often, this paper becomes a component of students’ practicum projects (the small-ish research projects that we do before embarking on comprehensive exams and a dissertation proposal). I don’t know for sure where this would go, of course, but dynamic representations (often via digital manipulatives) and how they might influence kids’ thinking is of definite interest to me.

Interestingly, as mentioned above, some of the studies I read about teachers’ use of digital curriculum materials involved digital manipulatives. The flexibility of a single manipulative, as opposed to a comprehensive curriculum program, made them an interesting context for involving teachers in the design of the materials — hence, there’s a chance that a practicum could involve studying both teacher and student use of a manipulative, combining two of my areas of interest. Similarly, there is some research showing an association between use of digital manipulatives and abstraction abilities, so there could be a CT overlap, too. The trick of it will be keeping the scope manageable.

In sum, I’d say my overall areas of interest have not changed much, but some of them are becoming more focused. I am still rather resistant to purposefully letting go of any of these lines of inquiry (I hate giving stuff up!), but I’m more hopeful now that a productive path will become clear to me as I progress.

Thanks again for indulging me in this post and for your continued readership. Hopefully this next year will be full of interesting ideas and insights to share with you.

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