Before becoming an intern at TERC, I did not have any prior research experience. After graduating from a vocational school in Tokyo, I worked in Japan for three years and attended an English language school. I wanted to travel and experience life abroad to explore different career options. After moving to Massachusetts, I started working at a Japanese daycare after obtaining a qualification in early childhood education from Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) and then decided to study entrepreneurship. As a student at BHCC, I joined the TERC Scholars Program through their BHCC Learn and Earn partnership.
The project I intern for is Visualize Teaching (VisTe), a National Science Foundation funded project that provides professional development to middle school teachers and coaches to improve mathematics education in middle schools. My current role is to support the research data analysis by cleaning and refining transcripts from classroom videos. Although a professional transcriber does the first pass from an audio file, my job is to watch the full video recording and include detailed information such as which students spoke, and which students interacted with the teacher. I create a more complete record that is much more useful for our quantitative analysis.
English is a second language for me, so this role was challenging. Unlike the adults and young children I've talked to so far, middle school students talk very fast, use slang, and don’t always speak clearly. I needed to replay the audio many times when I started. It was also hard to hear some prepositions like “a” or “the” because these words do not exist in Japanese. I had to learn how to hear these two words because it was very difficult to distinguish between the two. Another challenge I encountered was understanding the math vocabulary the students and teachers used. Although I studied statistics at a community college, I had never studied mathematics in the United States, so I did not know many mathematics terms. By doing this internship, I gained more English language skills because of the new math words I learned from transcribing and adding details to the classroom transcripts.
'Argumentation' Has a Place in the Classroom
What I have noticed while working on the transcripts is how important math 'argumentation' is in American classrooms. I had only taken math classes in Japan, so valuing 'argumentation' was very new and interesting to see in these American classrooms. In my experience as a student in Japan, we see that there is a math problem in the textbook, the teacher explains how to solve it, the practice problem in the textbook is given as homework, and the answer is reviewed in the next class. Most students in my classes did not raise their hands voluntarily when checking their answers, so the teacher randomly selected students and asked them to answer. If the answer was wrong, the teacher did not explain why it was incorrect, and would choose a different student who would have the correct answer.
On the other hand, from what I saw, American math education is completely different. From watching the classroom videos, I noticed how groups of two or three students work on a single problem. Each group then summarizes their ideas and presents them to the class. In this system, math 'argumentation' is done twice. Even if an incorrect answer is shared, the teacher often asks for a classroom discussion of the incorrect answer. This was very different for me when I considered how teachers from Japan taught versus the teachers’ approaches in the classroom videos. In Japan, teachers are in the position of 'teaching', but here in the United States I have an impression that teachers are not just there to teach, but also support classroom discourse. This seemed to improve the students’ communication skills and deepen their understanding of math because they were able to think more deeply about the problem through student-centered discussions.
In participating as an intern for the Visualize Teaching project, I have learned the importance of having your own opinion, and, in this case, participating in math argumentation. Justifying your claims, regardless of whether they are right or wrong, is also related to broadening the perspectives of others. By encouraging this skill at a young age, children will be able to listen to others’ opinions and be able to respond based on their own understanding of various ideas. Math argumentation does not need to be limited to the math classroom, but its use can expand to other disciplines and other real-world situations.
I am so grateful to Christina Silva and Teresa Lara-Meloy for their support as my mentors and supervisors at TERC, especially for their assistance with working on the transcripts. I am also thankful to Zac Alstad, Anushree Bopardikar, Jennifer Knudsen, Ken Rafanan, and Harriette Stevens for sharing their experience and project work with me.
I also want to thank the coaches, teachers, and students who participate in the Visualize Teaching project. Their involvement in this work is invaluable in helping us learn and share about the importance of promoting math argumentation in classrooms.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 2000545. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Akiko Voelcker is a TERC Scholars Intern for the Visualize Teaching project. Akiko currently studies entrepreneurship at Bunker Hill Community College. Her interests includes business, microeconomics, and marketing. Upon completing her internship at TERC, Akiko aspires to become a marketing analyst.
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