Understanding Design Elements of Informal Professional Development

2001 Research Presession
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics 
April 4, Orlando, FL

About The Math Forum

Presenters: Roya Salehi roya@mathforum.org   K. Ann Renninger ann@mathforum.org

      Jon Basden -- jbasden@mac.com
      Cynthia Lanius -- lanius@caam.rice.edu
      Susan Stein -- silly@123mail.net

Three forms of informal teacher professional development facilitated by The Math Forum, including Teacher2Teacher and Bridging Research and Practice are presented as case examples. Discussion will focus on the roles and goals of participants, facilitation of ownership for learning, and the language necessary for changed practice.

   The Math Forum - http://mathforum.org/
The Math Forum is an online community of teachers, students, researchers, parents, educators, and citizens at all levels who have an interest in mathematics and math education. The Math Forum has been consistently recognized as the leader in its field, and continues to provide high quality content and useful features, attracting about 4 million pageviews each month.

The Math Forum site provides a particular case example of how teachers can grow professionally while engaged in informal settings. These are settings that are not part of some larger organizational structure that specifies performance goals, objects, or curriculum. They are settings that ostensibly afford the kind of autonomy, competence, and relatedness that characterizes intrinsic interest (Ryan & Deci, 2000), and as such can facilitate changed practice.

Findings from study of teachers who use The Math Forum suggest that it is the interactive quality of its services that affords opportunities for teachers to grow their knowledge. Using resources that are rich and deep enables teachers to move from identifying the site as one with useable resources to being able to integrate these resources into their work with their students (Renninger & Shumar, 2001). Discussion of design elements such as those included in the questions of the session-- the roles and goals of participants, facilitation of ownership for learning, and the language necessary for change practice-- should enhance the possibility that session participants will be positioned to think together about how these and other such virtual and physical world projects model, apprentice, and engage teachers in reform-based practice (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Hay, 2000; Heibert, 1999).

   Teacher2Teacher - http://mathforum.org/t2t/

T2T is a forum in which teachers, parents, researchers and others interested in the teaching and learning of mathematics think together about questions posed. Visible levels of interaction consists of answers to participants and conversations with T2T mentors (staff and volunteer teachers); whereas invisible forms of interaction include conversations between mentors, and between lead-mentors and new mentors.

   Bridging Research and Practice - http://mathforum.org/brap/

The BRAP project includes Math Forum staff and seven teachers who have worked together in face-to-face workshops, over email, in virtual meetings to discuss research on mathematics learning and its application to their classrooms. One focus of this project has been the development of a videopaper entitled, Encouraging Mathematical Thinking: Discourse Around a Rich Problem. Now in its third year, the participants in this project have built into this videopaper the opportunity for readers to engage them (and others) in discussion of the points they raise.


The Math Forum as a site generally, the T2T service, and the BRAP project each provide a different lens for considering the implications of roles and goals, ownership of learning, and the language or discourse that is important to reform-based practice. They each include both visible and invisible interactions with teachers -teachers who seek answers and information and teachers who volunteer to mentor others. These three forms of informal professional development differ, however, in the specificity of the roles and goals for participation, the ownership of the participants, and the extent to which the development of language or discourse knowledge has been an explicit part of project participation.

Three questions will be used to focus both the presentation and the discussion with the audience about design elements. These include:

  1. What place do specific roles and goals have in establishing a context through which teachers develop understanding about mathematics, pedagogy, and/or technology?
  2. How does one facilitate ownership of learning among participants?
  3. To what extend does one provide participants with a language or discourse knowledge for changing their practice?


Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.) (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Hay, L. (2000). Time to think: The missing link in professional development. Education update. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 42, (5), 2.

Hiebert, J. (1999). Relationships between research and the NCTM Standards. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 30 (1), 3-19.

Renninger, K. A. & Shumar, W. (2001). Community building with and for teachers: The Math Forum. In K. A. Renninger & W. Shumar (Eds.), Building virtual communities :Learning and change in cyberspace. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

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