As I entered into this course, I had some experience with action research having written and implemented an action research grant in my last school. Interestingly, even though I have this experience, it was very much a “learn as I went” process, so having the chance to start a project and work through it with guidance and a set procedure gave me multiple opportunities to expand my learning and experience.

In the beginning of this course, we focused on identifying what makes good action research. We spent time journaling to identify areas in our classrooms that are places where we could dream about a change (Sagor, 2011, p.17). This made such an impact on me, I loved being able to consider, “If my classroom looked exactly like I want it to, what would it look like?” From my journaling, I determined that I wanted my students to focus on their ability to solve a problem, confidently, effectively, and creatively. From there, we moved into coming up with rationale and literature to support our focus. Here I found many examples of research that supported my action research. Two articles really helped me direct my achievement targets. The first article summarized information from 14 group studies and found that directly teaching problem solving strategies, and then providing students with problems to solve that will utilize the strategies is a very effective way to help struggling math students (Jitendra et al., 2015). The second article that strongly influenced my direction found that combining both verbal strategies with visual strategies was the most effective way to create growth in students (Swanson, Orosco, & Lussier, 2014). Additionally, while researching my focus, I found that the problems I was seeing in my classroom were not unique to just my students. In fact, one article summarized a NCTM report that specified that high school math must undergo a fundamental instructional shift. Our students must be put into an atmosphere that supports and requires critical thinking and problem solving in order to be successful at the common core state standards, and to be appropriately prepared for a global marketplace (Nichol, 2009).

Armed with all this information, the course moved into creating achievement targets, performance continua, and a graphic reconstruction of the process that was going to go into our action research. With all the effort in the beginning of the class about a focus, and true rationale, it was relatively easy to create achievement targets for both students and teacher. I created a graphic representation of the process and changes I, as the teacher, would make, and then connected it to the changes I expected my students would have. This was a huge tool as I moved to create specific changes in my teaching. A copy can be found here – Graphic Reconstruction. I narrowed my focus to one specific type of problem, and determined a progression for instruction that would hopefully create an increase in my students’ overall score on a 10 point rubric (see here – Problem Solving Rubric 2014-2015). I created a sequence where I taught students how to solve a liquid mixture problem in multiple ways. I started with a physical representation, and then used that representation to create an algebraic model. Then I taught students how to use a graphic organizer to create an algebraic model. After that, I connected the 5-Step Problem Solving Process that I use to this type of problem. Lastly, I asked students to transfer their knowledge to a problem that could be modeled and solved algebraically using a variety of options. Together, this process took four weeks to implement. You can see a presentation on this process with sample work here. I designed it as such so that students could see the connection between the content we were studying and problem solving strategies I had taught them, all from problems set in a real-world context.

At the end of my action research, I used the final assignment to gather data on students’ overall score on the 10-point rubric referenced earlier. I found that my class average went from a 7.4/10 to a 9.1/10, which was so encouraging. Although I only focused on a very small area of instruction in my classroom, seeing such results validated the need to continue this type of work in the future.

The concept of action research has really changed the way I am considering my instruction and how I am going to plan in the future. Overall, I believe that great teachers are those that keep learning throughout their career. An action research model allows me to do that. I love the concept of starting with a dream or a wish for my classroom and using that wish to design a focus for new work. I plan to spend some of my reflection time this year, and this summer, to come up with a new wish for my classroom next year. Once I have determined my wish, I am going to make the time to research what others have found works and does not work as related to my goal. Then I am going to create a baseline, and go. My learning will directly impact my students’ learning, and my students should benefit from this. Having a goal that will span a few months, or even an entire year, backed by research, will allow me to monitor my students’ growth and make appropriate changes. I even have an idea about where I want to go with my next, personal, action research. I am noticing throughout this year that Algebra 1 students are struggling with modeling situations in multiple ways, including algebraically and graphically. I intend to spend some time this summer looking into best practice for making this connection in students, designing and creating a change in my curriculum to hopefully help students in a skill that has been notoriously difficult as long as I have been teaching Algebra 1.

This class has empowered me to consider my classroom as a perfect place to make changes that are supported by research, for the best of the students. Change can be hard, and it can be easy to fall into a rut as a teacher where you continually do what you have done before because it worked before. This class reminded me that you can always improve upon what you did before, and that a defined plan, with research to back it up, can be better for everyone.

References

Jitendra, A.K., Peterson-Brown, S., Lein, A.E., Zaslofsky, A.F., Kunkel, A.K., Jung, P.G., Egan, A.M. (2015). Teaching mathematical word problem solving:the quality of evidence for strategy instruction priming the problem structure. *Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48*(1), 51-72. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022219413487408

Nichol, M. (2009, October 28). NCTM advocates teaching reasoning in high school math. Eductopia, retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/national-council-teachers-mathematics-guidelines http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0022219413487408

Sagor, R. (2011). *The Action Research Guidebook: A Four Stage Process for Educators and School Teams*. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Swanson, H.L., Orosco, M.J., Lussier, C.M. (2014) The effects of mathematics strategy instruction for children with serious problem-solving difficulties. *Exceptional Children, 80*(2), 149-168. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/001440291408000202