App could help make teaching more equitable

July 5, 2017

Niral Shah presenting at the AMSSI Math Conference in May (see below for details).

A Michigan State University researcher is developing a web application that will help educators make their teaching practices more equitable using data from their own classrooms.

Niral Shah, assistant professor of teacher education, will be working with teachers using this tool through research funded by a new fellowship. In May, Shah was chosen as a 2017 National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow, which supports research to enhance the future of education.

Shah is one of 30 scholars chosen from a competitive pool of more than 200 applicants. Beginning in fall 2017, he will receive $70,000 for up to two years as he completes his research and attends professional development retreats.

His proposed project—”Reducing the Impact of Implicit Racial and Gender Bias on Mathematics Classroom Discourse”—delves into biases educators may have: people have a tendency to favor those that look like them, act like them and have a similar life experience. Because of this, teachers may marginalize those that are different, particularly students of color and girls.

“Teachers don’t currently have a way of getting concrete data on how implicit bias might be affecting their practice,” Shah explained.

That is where his new analytical tool comes in.

Equipped for the future

Participants discuss topics at the AMSSI Math Conference.

Shah is collaborating with Daniel Reinholz, assistant professor of STEM education at San Diego State University.

EQUIP, or Equity QUantified In Participation, is an observation tool that will help teachers track equity-related patterns in classroom discourse.

“We hope to explore how quantitative analytics generated by EQUIP—alongside data on students’ subjective experiences of equity and bias—can support teachers in making their teaching practice more equitable over time,” Shah said.

Once completed, Shah hopes EQUIP can be incorporated into preservice teacher preparation programs and that school districts will adopt the tool during professional development opportunities.

Deeper STEM connections

The project is an extension of Shah’s research focus: equity and implicit bias in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

It is also an extension of a larger, National Science Foundation-funded project at MSU.

Professor Beth Herbel-Eisenmann is the principal investigator for M-DISC: Mathematics Discourse in Secondary Classrooms: A Case-Based Professional Development Curriculum. The project designed, piloted and revised materials that can be used with prospective and practicing secondary mathematics teachers. The research focused on pilot teachers indicates that these materials support secondary mathematics teachers to analyze and improve their own skills and teaching in the classroom. In particular, the materials can enable teachers to support students to participate in mathematics classrooms in ways that support students’ development of mathematical communication practices. These materials, titled “Mathematics discourse in secondary classrooms: A Practice-Based Multimedia Resource for Professional Learning,” will be available from Mathematics Solutions this year. For the past five years, Herbel-Eisenmann has had a partnership in East Lansing Public Schools.

Shah was recently invited into the project to specifically work with teachers on equity issues that arise in classroom discourse. It turned out to be a pilot for what Shah intends to do with his fellowship.

“I hope that this project will spark future work that mitigates inequity in classrooms at scale,” Shah added. “As a former high school teacher, it’s important to me that my research has a real impact in schools and classrooms. When we support teachers in doing the brave work of examining how their practice might be perpetuating inequity, we undermine the influence of racism, sexism and other oppressive forces on our children’s opportunity to learn.”

“Next wave of research”

The AMSSI Math Conference took place in Erickson Hall.

Shah recently convened a national group of researchers on the MSU campus to collaborate around the study of race, gender and other social identities in mathematics classrooms. The Advancing Methods for the Study of Social Identities in Mathematics (AMSSI Math) Conference, held May 19-20, 2017, was co-organized by Jennifer Langer-Osuna of Stanford University.

While the number of scholars studying the topic is growing, the theories and methods being used vary, Shah said.

“We want to create a space where we can come together and push the field forward, to set the stage for the next wave of research,” he told the group.

A monograph and symposium at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association are possible outcomes of the AMSSI Math Conference, with more collaboration expected. The conference was also funded by the Spencer Foundation.

Doctoral students from the MSU Program in Mathematics Education and Educational Psychology and Educational Technology also assisted with the conference.

UPDATE 9/27/17: Shah will be using EQUIP in additional projects on social science with faculty across MSU. Two grants from the National Science Foundation will allow the teams of MSU faculty to expand their research on computer science education, helping to ensure that curriculum being developed is created and implemented in equitable ways. Shah will be using EQUIP to help reach these goals.