Background and research question
There is a great need for raising the competence of teachers in mathematics and mathematics didactics, because increased knowledge is important for the pupils’ learning outcome. The governing documents emphasise teamwork, the school administration’s involvement, strong professional communities and disseminating knowledge as important elements in competence raising. This study envisages such a continuing education in mathematics for upper primary level teachers, in which the teachers were also organised into maths networks across schools. The teachers were to share knowledge gained at three network seminars at their respective schools and encourage colleagues to test this in their classes. The research question in the project was how teachers describe their benefit in terms of mathematics didactics after having participated in networks, and which critical factors they encounter when testing and sharing the knowledge. Previous studies call for more insight into teacher networks and the specific factors that stimulate a professional approach and motivation in the work (Hofman & Dijkstra, 2010). It is necessary to learn more about how the learning potential in collaborative contexts that arise in the workplace can influence professional teaching practice (Forte & Flores, 2014).
The long-term purpose of teachers’ continuing education is to develop the pupils’ mathematical competence and thereby increase their learning outcome in mathematics. Some key characteristics of good teaching and learning in mathematics are therefore presented. Another concrete goal for the project is to develop well-functioning networks, and theories about teachers’ learning are relevant in this context.
The concepts of relational understanding and in-depth knowledge are key in what may be described as good learning and teaching in mathematics. These can be seen in contrast to superficial learning and instrumental understanding. To achieve relational understanding, investigative and problem-solving work is recommended on assignments of a high cognitive quality (Boaler, 1998; NCTM, 2014). Communication and further developing pupils’ argumentation and answers play an important role in this context.
Research on teachers’ learning reveals five decisive factors in teachers’ professional development, with the most important factor being the content of further and continuing education. However, duration, coherence between previous and new knowledge, active learning and collective participation are also important for professional development (Desimone, 2009). In this study, the teachers were organised into networks. A network may be defined as ‘processes that facilitate learning and stimulate teachers to alter or reinforce teaching and educational practices’ (Avalos, 2011, s. 12). Motivation, school culture and opportunities for reflection are key factors that must exist if the teachers are to benefit from the networks (Hofman & Dijkstra, 2010).
The concepts of inside knowledge and outside knowledge are used by Lieberman & Wood (2002) in connection with competence raising. Inside knowledge is the knowledge that the teachers bring to the network, for example their own and colleagues’ practice, while outside knowledge is the knowledge presented by external course providers and that is generated by research. Both are necessary in the interrelation between theory and practice and in the development of professional practice.
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