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Park investigates Multiple Representations in Mathematics

Mi Sun Park is a Graduate Research Assistant in the STEM Education Center, and a Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. For her doctoral dissertation, Park is researching how teachers' beliefs about using multiple representations potentially change through a professional development program and how those changes impact teaching.

The term "multiple representations" refers to the way that mathematical concepts are presented when teaching, such as providing language, symbolic, visual, real world, and manipulative representations. Use of multiple representations incorporated in pedagogical content knowledge is an effective teaching practice. Park aims to have her research give good examples to other teachers on how to effectively use multiple representations in the classroom. Multiple representations are a type of conceptual understanding that is symbolic and not always easily understood by students.

Data is being collected from educators who have participated in the Math & Science Teacher Academies (MSTA) professional development trainings. Park observes the MSTA trainings for ways that the training provides teachers with examples of multiple representations.

Park also is observing six teachers at the 7th grade level who have participated in the MSTA trainings to see how they use multiple representations in their teaching. Many teachers have traditionally used only symbolic representation. Other instructors use common forms of representation such as graphs and tables to teach mathematical concepts. Park is interested in whether teachers who see teaching modeled with multiple representations will implement the concept in their teaching practice.

Park is currently gathering data for her dissertation. The main source of Park's data comes from teacher interviews. Educators in the study are asked about their general beliefs about teaching. They are also asked what they think about using multiple representations in their lessons. This is important to determine how teachers teach effectively to all students.

A challenge with multiple representations is that it isn't always taught in traditional teacher education programs. When representation is taught, often only one or two forms of representation are modeled.

Park seeks to use the knowledge gained from her dissertation to develop new curriculum and activities to use in classrooms that focus on all five areas of representations. STEM integration, in particular, often includes all types of representation. She will create models that put all ideas into a single product such as a curriculum book to enhance student understanding, give teachers ideas for activities, and improve students' conceptual understanding.

Park has a strong background in mathematics education that she brings to her dissertation subject. She taught mathematics for five years in South Korea, then taught college students as part of her master's program. In South Korea, textbooks were focused on symbolic representation, calculator skills, and following curriculum. This lack of focus on multiple representation helped Park become more interested in how the concept could be used to enhance student understanding of mathematics.

After completion of her Ph.D. program as projected in Spring 2013, Park plans to work in a University environment as a faculty member, create new curricula, develop professional development for preservice and inservice teachers, and develop a curriculum book of activities involving STEM best practices for integration of multiple representations.

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