Theory-based design of professional development for upper secondary teachers – focusing on the content-specific use of digital tools

Barbel Barzel

Introduction and overview

The chapter illustrates the research and development approach of the DZLM by focusing on two PD courses for upper secondary teachers, for which the authors of this chapter were responsible. The DZLM has developed standards for

  • • The general design of the teaching and learning processes in PD courses (design principles), based on research on successful PD courses.
  • • The design of the content of a PD course, based on a general competence and knowledge facet model for teachers and on research on the specific content of the course such as the use of digital tools or the teaching and learning of probability.

Related to that, a research agenda has been set up:

  • • Accompanying research and evaluation, which addresses the chain of impact from assessing teacher beliefs and competences, over the self-efficacy regarding teaching a topic, to assess their classroom teaching and students’ learning outcome.
  • • General principles have to be interpreted and concretized in every particular PD course and its boundary conditions.

For all programmes of professionalization - so also for DZLM - the main challenge is the issue of scaling (Coburn, 2003). Therefore, our research aims at understanding the change processes and how to overcome problems and obstacles to optimize the programmes. As this chapter was written, DZLM is in the third funding period (2019-2020) with the aim of establishing it as a permanent nationwide operating institute for research and development in the field of mathematics teacher professionalization.

All these aspects could have been illustrated by only one course. However, in order to illustrate how these principles could be interpreted in different courses and because of the history of what has become this chapter (a joint presentation at the ERME conference), we decided to discuss both courses from a design point of view and a research point of view.

The courses chosen are very similar in nature, they address upper secondary teachers who face a new curriculum with mandatory use of digital tools, they both had the same structure - four whole days spread over several months, with working phases in between every two meetings - and were situated in the same educational context, the federal state of North Rhine-Westfalia. Course 1 focused on the use of digital tools (in various domains, including probability and statistics), course 2 on probability and statistics (including the use of digital tools).

Due to limitations of space, we have decided the following:

  • • The design principles for teaching and learning process will be illustrated by course 1 only.
  • • The theory-based design principles for the content will be illustrated by course 2 only.
  • • To present some results of the accompanying research related to both courses.

The research goals and methods differ in both courses to a certain extent due to the early stage of DZLM’s development, where different research strategies were practised, which later evolved into a new systematized research agenda (Prediger, Leuders & Rosken-Winter, 2019).

Before we start with the two courses, we will discuss the context of the courses and the principles of the DZLM.

Professional development in mathematics education in Germany and the DZLM approach

General situation of PD courses

Although research findings gave evidence that effective professional development should be realized in long-term settings with more than one face-to-face meeting, these conclusions from research did not yet lead to be realized in the practice of teacher education in Germany.

To get an idea of why these change processes are difficult, it is necessary to briefly describe the educational structure in Germany. Teacher education in Germany is mainly structured in three phases. The first phase at university takes 3.5 to 5 years, depending on students’ aims to become a primary or secondary teacher. Although there are standards for teacher education published by the Society of Didactics of Mathematics together with the main teacher association for mathematics (DMV, GDM & MNU, 2008), these are not compulsory but just recommendations. There is still a big variety of how to conceptualize the education at university as the official guidelines are very vague and allow still many ways of how to decide and realize the content of the education. This is the same for the second part of teacher education, which happens over 18 months at special centres for pre-service education, run by the regional school administration. During this phase, the future teachers have to teach at a school, partly supervised and assessed, and partly in their own responsibility. In-service education is not compulsory and is offered under the authority of the school administration and by free providers (such as teacher networks, universities, teachers’ association). As in many other countries, there are currently no standards or guidelines for professional development, and facilitators do not receive specific education to be prepared for this job. They are mainly qualified teachers who are denominated by their governments to act as trainers and facilitators.

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