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Newly Published Whitepaper Explores Revolutionary Approach to Teacher PD

Prototype empowers educators to deepen their math content understanding on demand

Last August, DreamBox Learning Math introduced a cohort of 649 educators across the US to an innovative prototype environment for teacher professional development (PD). Funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DreamBox researched the usage and impact of this prototype over the course of six months. Key details and findings from this exciting study are now available to administrators, teachers, developers, and content providers in the newly published whitepaper, “Deepening Elementary Teachers’ Content Knowledge in Mathematics.”

The prototype described in the 50-page whitepaper engages teachers in a dynamic, self-paced experience that enables them to use real-time student performance data as a starting point for relevant professional learning. While there are other programs on the market that generate data-informed recommendations for math teachers, the DreamBox approach is different—and the findings from the study are very promising.

Prototype not only addresses what teachers learn, but how they learn

Other data-informed programs typically only provide a scripted classroom lesson to follow, without taking into account the teacher’s own understanding of the concept. Unfortunately, if a teacher hasn’t made sense of the math content in the lesson, the scripted lesson will have limited effectiveness.

Consider that many adults don’t understand how and why fraction division works because they were told as students, “Yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply.” Memorizing a procedure is not the same as understanding it. In the same way that students should not be given a computational procedure without understanding the math concepts involved, teachers shouldn’t be given a scripted lesson without understanding the mathematics behind the lesson.

With DreamBox, teachers engage with math concepts in new ways that help deepen their content knowledge

The DreamBox PD prototype leverages the same virtual manipulatives and digital tools that distinguish the DreamBox student experience. These dynamic and interactive representations provide new opportunities for teachers to engage with math concepts in ways that they didn’t experience when they were students. These learning experiences are also in stark contrast to PD content that is merely digitized video lectures explaining math concepts to teachers without engaging them in sense-making and understanding.

As teachers interact with these digital tools within the recommended PD modules, they use math processes and practices to understand concepts more deeply. At the same time, they learn to empathize with how students are developing their own conceptions in math.

When teachers learn, students learn: Findings link teacher usage to student growth

DreamBox’s PD prototype was released in three waves to three different groups of teachers. In all, usage data were collected from a total of 649 teachers in Grades 3–5 who engaged in 1,490 DreamBox PD On Demand sessions. These teachers were responsible for over 11,000 students who collectively completed nearly 1.3 million DreamBox lessons during the testing window.

Key findings from the six-month study suggest a promising correlation between teacher usage and student growth. Students demonstrated over 30 percent more growth in math topics on their grade level when they had a teacher who engaged in more PD sessions.

To learn more about this innovative prototype environment for teacher professional learning, and how teacher usage impacts growth in student achievement, download the whitepaper now.

Tim Hudson