An investigation of secondary school algebra teachers' mathematical knowledge for teaching algebraic equation solving
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This study characterizes the mathematical knowledge upon which secondary school algebra teachers draw when pondering problem situations that could arise in the teaching and learning of solving algebraic equations, as well as examines the potential connections between teachers' knowledge and their academic backgrounds and teaching experiences. Seventy-two middle school and high school algebra teachers in Texas participated in the study by completing an academic background questionnaire and a written-response assessment instrument. Eight participants were then invited for followup semi-structured interviews. The results revealed three topic areas in equation solving in which teachers' mathematical subject matter understanding should be strengthened: (a) the balancing method, (b) the concept of equivalent equations, and (c) the properties of linear equations in their general forms. The participants provided a wide range of instances of student misconceptions and difficulties in learning how to solve linear and quadratic equations, as well as a variety of strategies for helping students to improve their understanding. Teachers' subject matter knowledge played a central or prerequisite role in their reasoning and decision-making in specific contexts. When the problem contexts became broader or more general, teachers drew from across the three basic domains of mathematical knowledge for teaching (knowledge of the mathematical subject matter, knowledge of learners' conceptions, and knowledge of didactic representations) and showed individual preferences. Overall, teachers tended to rely more heavily upon their knowledge of students' specific or general learning characteristics. Statistical analyses suggest that teachers who majored in mathematics and who had the most experience in teaching first-year or more advanced algebra courses performed significantly higher on the assessment than their counterparts, and there is a linear relationship between teachers' performance and the number of advanced mathematics course they have taken. Neither course-taking in mathematics education nor number of years of algebra teaching made a significant difference in their performance. Results are either unclear or inconsistent about the role of teachers' (a) use of algebra textbooks, (b) prior experience with a method or a manipulative, and (c) participation in professional development activities. Teachers also rated (a) collaborating with and learning from colleagues and (b) dealing with student conceptions and questions as highly influential on their professional knowledge growth.