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The Mathematical Content Knowledge of Prospective Teachers in Iceland

Johannsdottir, Bjorg

This study focused on the mathematical content knowledge of prospective teachers in Iceland. The sample was 38 students in the School of Education at the University of Iceland, both graduate and undergraduate students. All of the participants in the study completed a questionnaire survey and 10 were interviewed. The choice of ways to measure the mathematical content knowledge of prospective teachers was grounded in the work of Ball and the research team at the University of Michigan (Delaney, Ball, Hill, Schilling, and Zopf, 2008; Hill, Ball, and Schilling, 2008; Hill, Schilling, and Ball, 2004), and their definition of common content knowledge (knowledge held by people outside the teaching profession) and specialized content knowledge (knowledge used in teaching) (Ball, Thames, and Phelps, 2008). This study employed a mixed methods approach, including both a questionnaire survey and interviews to assess prospective teachers' mathematical knowledge on the mathematical topics numbers and operations and patterns, functions, and algebra. Findings, both from the questionnaire survey and the interviews, indicated that prospective teachers' knowledge was procedural and related to the "standard algorithms" they had learned in elementary school. Also, findings indicated that prospective teachers had difficulties evaluating alternative solution methods, and a common denominator for a difficult topic within both knowledge domains, common content knowledge and specialized content knowledge, was fractions. During the interviews, the most common answer for why a certain way was chosen to solve a problem or a certain step was taken in the solution process, was "because that is the way I learned to do it." Prospective teachers' age did neither significantly influence their test scores, nor their approach to solving problems during the interviews. Supplementary analysis revealed that number of mathematics courses completed prior to entering the teacher education program significantly predicted prospective teachers' outcome on the questionnaire survey.Comparison of the findings from this study to findings from similar studies carried out in the US indicated that there was a wide gap in prospective teachers' ability in mathematics in both countries, and that they struggled with similar topics within mathematics. In general, the results from this study were in line with prior findings, showing, that prospective elementary teachers relied on memory for particular rules in mathematics, their knowledge was procedural and they did not have an underlying understanding of mathematical concepts or procedures (Ball, 1990; Tirosh and Graeber, 1989; Tirosh and Graeber, 1990; Simon, 1993; Mewborn, 2003; Hill, Sleep, Lewis, and Ball, 2007). The findings of this study highlight the need for a more in-depth mathematics education for prospective teachers in the School of Education at the University of Iceland. It is not enough to offer a variety of courses to those specializing in the field of mathematics education. It is also important to offer in-depth mathematics education for those prospective teachers focusing on general education. If those prospective teachers teach mathematics, they will do so in elementary school where students are forming their identity as mathematics students.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Mathematics Education
Thesis Advisors
Walker, Erica
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 30, 2013